BALTIMORE (AP) — Brad Cox-trained First Mission has been scratched from the Preakness on the advice of veterinarians, taking one of the top contenders out of the Triple Crown race hours before post time.
Owner Godolphin and the Maryland Jockey Club announced the scratch early Friday, saying vets identified an issue with First Mission’s left hind ankle. The withdrawal comes in the aftermath of five scratches for the Kentucky Derby and one horse who was scheduled to run being among the seven who died of various causes at Churchill Downs over a 10-day span.
Godolphin USA bloodstock director Michael Banahan said examination of First Mission at Pimlico Race Course “was sort of inconclusive.”
“They thought that he was maybe not quite 100% on his left hind and tried to figure that out, do some diagnostics, something on the track there, which was difficult to do,” Banahan told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “The veterinary scrutiny is very heightened on the big days. Obviously they saw something that they were concerned about. … Brad is conservative and cautious, as well. When they thought that there was maybe a little issue, we said we’d just have to collaborate with them and go with their advice.”
First Mission is set to go to Kentucky to be evaluated further next week by Dr. Larry Bramlage at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington.
“We decided the best thing for the welfare of the horse was not to take any chances and get him evaluated fully and see where we are and see what we need to do to get him back on track again,” Banahan said. “Our utmost concern from an owner perspective, and the same with Brad from a trainer’s perspective is the best care of the horse and the welfare of the horse. And when there was a little bit of a concern there, we felt what we needed to do was pull him from the race and get him evaluated fully and see what we have.”
The removal of First Mission leaves seven horses in the field for the $1.65 million race. He was the early second choice at odds of 5-2 behind only 8-5 favorite Mage, who won the Kentucky Derby.
“You don’t like to see that,” said Hall of Famer trainer Bob Baffert, who is back at a Triple Crown race for the first time in two years with contender National Treasure. “We still have another day to go. Trainers, we don’t relax until we get the saddle on. Until I get the saddle on the horse, then you can just relax completely. It’s one of those things where you don’t want to wish any bad luck on anyone because we’ve all been there.”
It’s an all-too-familiar feeling this spring after the defections from the Derby left 18 to run instead of the usually full field of 20.
That included favorite Forte hours before, when Kentucky racing officials expressed concern about a bruised right front foot. Forte landed on the state’s vet list, grounding him from racing for at least 14 days, and trainer Todd Pletcher was suspended 10 days for Forte failing a postrace drug test in New York in September.
Racing officials who own and operate tracks in Maryland have increased testing and veterinary review procedures for horses running in the Preakness and other top stakes races this weekend at Pimlico Race Course as preventative measures to limit injuries. That includes multiple independent doctors examining horses, with each one needing to be cleared before racing.
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