Early Kentucky Derby favorite Forte scratched just hours before the race’s start; sixth horse dies

A sixth horse died at Churchill Downs on Saturday. Chloe’s Dream’s death comes after four horses passed away in just six days. Chloe Dream was a three-year-old gelding that ran on the Derby undercard.

The morning-line favorite to win, Forte, was also scratched from the 149th Run for the Roses, just hours before the Kentucky Derby was scheduled to get underway. Veterinarians examined Forte and determined it was better to exercise caution as it related to the bruise on his right hoof.

The deaths during Derby week have increased the scrutiny to the sport as it also continues to deal with multiple doping suspensions. “This is part of racing, and it’s the cruel part,” Mike Repole, co-owner of Forte, said in an interview with FanDuel TV.


Rich Strike runs across the finish line

 Rich Strike, with Sonny Leon aboard, crosses the finish line to win the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 7, 2022, in Louisville, Ky. Rich Strike’s stunning upset victory in last year’s Kentucky Derby as a nearly 81-1 long shot provided the race’s second biggest odds winner in four years.  (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

The ongoing issues within the sport have also caught the attention of some Derby-goers.

“It’s concerning, and I hope they’re quickly trying the best they can to correct whatever’s going on,” said Michael Freeze, who along with his friend dressed up as jockeys. “They need to do whatever is best for the horses, and the sport in general.”


Chloe’s Dream got hurt in the second race Saturday. The horse was taken off in an equine ambulance with a right front knee injury and was euthanized, trainer Jeff Hiles confirmed to The Associated Press.

“He just took a bad step out there,” Hiles said. “They could do the same thing running in the field as they could on the track. So it’s very unfortunate. That’s what we deal with.”

New antidoping and medication rules enforced by a central governing body of the sport are scheduled to take effect May 22.

“There’s something going on,” said Pat Murtha, who was attending his first Derby. “They need to find out, and set some rules and regulations to protect these animals.”

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, a two-time Triple Crown winner, is nearing the end of a two-year ban issued by Churchill Downs Inc. One of his horses, Medina Spirit, crossed the finish line first in the 2021 Derby and failed a post-race drug test. The horse was disqualified, and Baffert was punished.

A horse works out at Churchill Downs

A horse works out at Churchill Downs Friday, May 5, 2023, in Louisville, Ky. The 149th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 6. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

More than 30 horses died in 2019 at the Santa Anita racetrack in California. The death toll sent shockwaves through the industry and led to various safety reforms.

Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Rick Dutrow had his license revoked in 2011 for 10 years by New York officials. Regulators found syringes loaded with unauthorized medication in a desk in his barn. Dutrow re-opened his stable last month.

Forte had been the early 3-1 favorite; his absence reduces the field to 18 horses for the 1 1/4-mile race.

Repole said that veterinarians from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had diagnosed Forte with a bruised foot and that the colt had developed the bruise a few days ago. The colt stumbled during a workout Thursday, although trainer Todd Pletcher had downplayed it publicly.

Behind the scenes was a different story.

“We did X-rays, we brought in vets, the state vets came in, and they watched him every single day,” Repole said in the interview. “He’s fine. He probably needs a couple more days (to recover).”

Pletcher still has two horses in the Derby: Tapit Trice and Kingsbarns.

People react as they watch a horse race

A horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 6, 2023, in Louisville, Ky.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The horse deaths included Derby contender Wild On Ice. Two of the horses were trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. He was indefinitely suspended by the track, although investigators have yet to determine a cause for the deaths of his horses.

“It doesn’t make me happy to see a horse get euthanized,” said racegoer Joe Conforto, wearing jockey goggles and a stuffed horse on his head. “But I think a lot of it is bad luck. Most race horses are taken better care of than human beings.”


Four horses were scratched — Practical Move, Lord Miles, Continuar and Skinner — in recent days. Practical Move and Skinner had fevers, while Continuar wasn’t in peak condition, according to his Japanese trainer. Lord Miles was Joseph’s Derby horse.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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