LOUISVILLE — The expected pace scenario for the 137th Kentucky Derby took a twist Tuesday as word came down that Grade I winner J P's Gusto and Rebel Stakes winner The Factor will not contest the 11/4-mile classic.
On yet another soggy morning at Churchill Downs, trainer Bob Baffert said he was "leaning against" starting The Factor in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Shortly after that statement, owner George Bolton confirmed that they were going to err on the side of caution and officially remove The Factor from Derby consideration.
"It's much too quick," Bolton said. "We don't want to run a horse that isn't right. The right thing for The Factor is to wait and go either to the Preakness, Met Mile, Woody Stephens or something like that."
The Factor displaced his palate during his seventh-place finish in the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 16 and underwent minor throat surgery last week to correct the issue.
Baffert said his concerns about The Factor's one-dimensional running style and ability to handle the 11/4 miles were also big reasons he is inclined to point the son of War Front to a different race.
A confirmed front-runner, The Factor blazed his way to victories in the Grade II San Vicente and a 61/4-length win in the Rebel while on the lead but was clearly not as comfortable when he had to sit off horses in the Arkansas Derby — displaced palate or not.
"We want to get him really right, and the mile and a quarter has always been in the back of my mind," Baffert said. "He's going to want to go too fast. He's not a true mile-and-a-quarter horse."
J P's Gusto, who set the pace in the Arkansas Derby before fading to eighth, was also withdrawn from consideration from the Derby, according to John O'Hara, racing manager for owner Gem Inc.
The defections of J P's Gusto and The Factor not only play favorably for horses such as Soldat and Uncle Mo, who probably will be on or close to the pace, but they also clear the way for Florida Derby runner-up Shackleford and Twinspired, second in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes, to crack the top 20 on the graded-stakes earnings list and get into the Kentucky Derby field.
The Daily Racing Form reported that Mike Smith will ride Twinspired in the Derby.
Silver Medallion, fourth in the Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes last weekend, is now the first horse out.
Midnight Interlude, Santiva put in works
Baffert does have one Kentucky Derby hopeful left in Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude, and the Hall of Fame trainer was further encouraged by his chances after the colt worked 6 furlongs in company over the sloppy Churchill track Tuesday.
The son of War Chant worked along with stablemate Mythical Power, covering the distance in 1:133⁄5.
"He's tough, he's a tough horse," Baffert said of the move. "He got a lot out of it."
Tom Walters' Santiva also worked in company Tuesday, drilling 4 furlongs in :491⁄5.
Baffert endured a heart-wrenching morning as Gilded Gem, a filly who was pointing for the Grade I Humana Distaff, broke down after working in company with Kentucky Oaks hopeful Plum Pretty. Gilded Gem was euthanized because of fatal ankle fractures.
"It just scares you," Baffert said. "I'm still in shock over it. It (happened) after the work. She was done working. That's when she did it, was pulling up."
Plum Pretty completed her 7-furlong move in 1:282⁄5.
Repole: Dominguez will ride Stay Thirsty
Owner Mike Repole said Eclipse Award winner Ramon Dominguez will ride graded- stakes winner Stay Thirsty in the Kentucky Derby.
Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel guided Stay Thirsty through his latest workout at Churchill Downs this past weekend, but Dominguez has ridden Stay Thirsty in his last two starts, including his win in the Grade III Gotham Stakes on March 5.
"(Trainer) Todd (Pletcher) and I spoke after Mo's work and we decided to go with Ramon," said Repole, who also owns 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo.
Borel helped Pletcher win his first Kentucky Derby last year when he guided Super Saver to victory — the third Derby win in the last four years for the affable rider.
"I am surprised actually," Pletcher said Tuesday morning — before the decision had been made — when asked whether he was shocked Borel doesn't yet have a Derby mount. "A lot of it has to do with preps, and he obviously didn't have a horse that ran well enough in some of the preps to get here.
"We are aware of Calvin's success here, but we also have to respect commitments we've had before."