June 3, 2023

The article will be updated.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Kentucky state veterinarians scratched Forte, the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, on Saturday morning after examining him and finding him unfit to compete. The vets gave no details, but rumors that the colt was unwell had been circulating the back of Churchill Downs all week.

Kentucky regulators had no immediate comment on Forte’s condition. State vets have reason to be cautious at the 149th running of the race after four horses died at Churchill Downs in six days.

Forte was named champion of the 2-year-old horses last year and had won six of his seven races. He is royally bred, trained by Todd Pletcher, a Hall of Famer. It would be ridden by the best jockey in the country, Irad Ortiz Jr.

Now only 18 horses will take part in the Derby.

In 2011, Forte co-owner Mike Repole had to scratch another 2-year-old champion, Uncle Mo, the day before the race. The foal had contracted a gastrointestinal infection.

“I’m 0 for 7 in the Derby,” said Repole earlier this week. “The pressure of having a horse like this is heavy. We all hope and pray and dream that we can get here. When you do, what happens in the days before the race can be scary. He may get sick or hurt himself or step on something. You just want to get to the gate.”

In the days leading up to the Derby, the Churchill Downs backstretch is always full of rumors and speculation about the welfare of the horses. And Forte was not spared the scrutiny.

The colt appeared to stumble during a gallop on Thursday, and the moment, captured on video, was dissected by horse players and horse enthusiasts alike.

On Friday, however, Pletcher dismissed the rumors, saying Forte was ready to run and that he was looking forward to seeing jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. to give Saturday a head start.

“He’s shown up and is running well every start of his life, and I wouldn’t expect anything else from him,” Pletcher said of Forte.

The fragile nature of thoroughbred racing became apparent with the deaths of four horses in six days at Churchill Downs, including Derby competitor Wild on Ice, who was euthanized after suffering a leg injury. Another horse was put down after injury and two collapsed and died in training. Four other Derby horses were scratched, the first time since 2015 that many horses were taken off the field.