Kentucky Derby favorite Omaha Beach scratched

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Suddenly, the Kentucky Derby is wide open.

Favorite Omaha Beach was scratched because of a breathing problem Wednesday night, leaving a pair of Hall of Famers on the sideline — trainer Richard Mandella and jockey Mike Smith.

Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia revised the morning line to make Game Winner the 9-2 favorite for the 1 1/4-mile race Saturday.

Improbable and Roadster were installed as the co-second choices at 5-1, giving five-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert the top three choices in the 20-horse field.

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Mandella told The Associated Press that Omaha Beach developed a cough and a subsequent veterinary exam showed the colt has an entrapped epiglottis. It's generally not life- or career-threatening and is typically corrected with minor surgery.

"It's been a devastating thing, but we have to do what's right for the horse," said Mandella, who has never won the Derby with six previous starters.

The trainer said Omaha Beach will have surgery in Kentucky in the next few days and will be sidelined for two to three weeks. The ordeal will knock him off the Triple Crown trail.

"It's such a disappointment, but we'll fight again," Mandella told the AP. "We won't be out a long time."

The scratch was another blow to cancer survivor Rick Porter, the colt's 78-year-old owner. He has twice finished second in the Derby, in 2007 with Hard Spun and the following year with filly Eight Belles, who broke her ankles past the finish line and had to be euthanized.

"He's a great sport," Mandella said. "I've got very good support."

Omaha Beach had been the 4-1 early favorite.

Mandella's dry sense of humor came out when he said, "My wife has my leg tied down so I can't jump out of the window."

Related: Look back at last year's Derby: 

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Scenes from the 144th Kentucky Derby
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Scenes from the 144th Kentucky Derby
May 5, 2018; Louisville, KY, USA; A general view of roses in the infield before the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
May 5, 2018; Louisville, KY, USA; Horses make their way around the first turn during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
May 5, 2018; Louisville, KY, USA; Mike Smith aboard Justify (7) beats Javier Castellano aboard Audible (5) to the finish line to win the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 05: Justify #7, ridden by jockey Mike Smith crosses the finish line to win the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 05: Men in fancy patterned suits cheer with their Mint Juleps on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Mary Meek/Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 05: Justify #7, ridden by jockey Mike Smith crosses the finish line to win the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 05: Jockey Mike Smith celebrates atop of Justify #7 after winning the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 05: Jockey Mike Smith celebrates atop of Justify #7 after winning the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
May 5, 2018; Louisville, KY, USA; From left Paige Rogers , Josephine Whan and Soohuen Whan take shelter from the rain under a tarp during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
May 5, 2018; Louisville, KY, USA; A general view from the infield during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 05: A view of the Churchill Downs race track during Kentucky Derby 144 on May 5, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Chruchill Downs)
May 5, 2018; Louisville, KY, USA; Women in derby attire wear plastic bags to seek shelter from the rain during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Jim Owens-USA TODAY Sports
May 5, 2018; Louisville, KY, USA; Rain falls before the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Jim Owens-USA TODAY Sports
May 5, 2018; Louisville, KY, USA; Lora Coomes wears a derby hat during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Jim Owens-USA TODAY Sports
May 5, 2018; Louisville, KY, USA; Mike Smith aboard Justify (7) in the winner's circle during the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 05: Jockey Mike Smith celebrates with trainer Bob Baffert after winning the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Smith had chosen to ride Omaha Beach instead of Roadster and now he won't have a chance to win the Derby for the second straight year. He rode Justify to victory last year.

"I'm a little bummed out, but the horse is OK and we're going to be all right," Smith told the AP by phone. "The good news is it wasn't anything that is life-threatening."

Smith has three mounts on Friday's card at Churchill Downs and five Saturday.

"I'll be rooting for Roadster's connections big-time," he said. "I'll be a glorified cheerleader."

Omaha Beach galloped Wednesday morning without problem and Mandella said everything was fine. But that changed by late afternoon when the exam showed the cough was more than a minor irritation.

The condition can indicate the start of a virus, a sore throat or a sore in somewhere in the horse's soft palate.

Omaha Beach's scratch moves Bodexpress into the field in the No. 20 post.

Mandella said he would likely return to Southern California before the Derby.

"I didn't lose interest," he said, "but I don't want to be here and watch it."

It's not the first time the Derby has lost a favorite leading up to the race.

In 2009, I Want Revenge became the first morning-line favorite to scratch the day of the race because of a hot spot on his ankle.

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