John Shirreffs, the trainer who won the 2005 Derby with 50-1 shot Giacomo, scratched Skinner because of an elevated temperature, Churchill Downs announced. That’s the same reason behind the scratching of Practical Move, who won that Santa Anita Derby and whose exit began this flowing parade.
It’s the most scratches since the 2015 race, which also had four and wound up with 18 entries. It’s slightly more common this century for a Derby to go off with fewer than 20 entries, which has happened 13 times, with the number holding at 20 for 10 other times, including 2022. The fewest entries in a Derby this century came in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic year with the September Derby, when only 15 horses made it to the gates.
The absences in this 149th Kentucky Derby began tragically two Thursdays ago when Wild On Ice, hoping to become the first Texas-bred winner since 1950 and hoping to carry the oldest jockey in Derby history at age 61, died after fracturing a left hind leg after a five-furlong train.
The less-sad defections began Thursday afternoon, when Practical Move was scratched because of his elevated temperature, a decision that removed a 10-1 co-fourth best shot from the mix. It continued later Thursday afternoon when Churchill Downs stewards recommended the scratching of Lord Miles, whereupon trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. complied just before the track announced the suspension of Joseph because two of his horses, Parents Pride and Chasing Artie, collapsed and died from races last Saturday and Tuesday.
Lord Miles’s exit robbed the Derby of a 30-1 shot who had won the Wood Memorial in an upset most did not see repeating here.
Later in the evening, Continuar scratched, with his trainer Yoshito Yahagi spotting a general insufficiency in fitness for the 50-1 shot.
In the Derby points system, alternate horses fill the 20-horse field in the event of a scratch. It’s a system particularly noteworthy this year because the shocking 2022 winner, Rich Strike, got into that race only at 9 a.m. on the eve of the Derby. Practical Move’s scratch let in Cyclone Mischief, a 30-1 shot. Lord Miles’s exit let in Mandarin Hero, a Japanese horse at a healthy 20-1 whose presence made for three Japanese entries. Then Continuar’s scratch took that number back down to two and let in King Russell, a 50-1 shot.
With Skinner’s scratch, the field began the occasional practice of dwindling in number.
This is a developing story and has been updated.