Kentucky Derby scratches that changed history

April 27th, 2023

Following the events of the last few years in the Kentucky Derby (G1), even the least historically inclined of fans are likely familiar with the occurrences of disqualifications in the great race.

As a quick refresher, there have been three disqualifications of the first-place finisher in the near century-and-a-half history of the Derby. The demotions of Dancer’s Image in 1968 and Medina Spirit in 2021 occurred well after the fact, due to the presence of banned substances in their post-race tests.

The only race-day disqualification from first in Derby history occurred in 2019, when eventual division champion Maximum Security was placed 17th after causing serious interference passing the quarter pole.

These acts made a notable impact on the history of the Derby, and on U.S. racing in general. Less well known than Derby disqualifications have been the notable scratches that have occurred after the race had been drawn and the programs printed. These too made impacts on the race’s history to varying extents.

While a comprehensive list of scratches since 1875 is not possible, these four withdrawals perhaps were the most significant:

Gen. Duke (1957)

The regally-bred Calumet Farm colt was second choice on the morning line for arguably the deepest of all Derbys. A bruised foot, which had flared up following his track-record setting performance in the Florida Derby, became more aggravated after he ran second in the Derby Trial during Derby week.

Trainer Jimmy Jones pulled the plug on Gen. Duke on Derby morning, thus leaving stablemate Iron Liege to be Calumet’s solo entry. A longer 8-1 shot without most of Gen. Duke’s supporters, Iron Liege nonetheless ran the race of his life to defeat three future Hall of Fame colts (Gallant Man, Round Table, and Bold Ruler) while also giving jockey Bill Hartack the first of a record-equaling five Derby wins.

Sir Gaylord (1962)

A four-time stakes winner as a two-year-old and undefeated in four starts at three leading up to the Derby, Sir Gaylord was installed as the 8-5 morning line favorite. However, a hairline fracture of a sesamoid bone was detected on the day before the Derby, which necessitated not only his scratching from the Derby but his retirement from racing.

Although he became a prominent sire, Sir Gaylord is most remembered today as the older half-brother to the legendary Secretariat, who came along 11 years later to sweep the Triple Crown in devastating fashion.

A.P. Indy (1992)

Regarded as the leading U.S.-based contender for his Derby, A.P. Indy was second choice on the morning line behind the brilliant juvenile champion Arazi, the France-based colt who had emphatically captured the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs the previous fall.

Unfortunately, a bruised hoof discovered on Derby morning resulted in A.P. Indy’s withdrawal, leaving longshot Lil E. Tee to do the honors of toppling Arazi. A.P. Indy recovered to win the Belmont (G1), Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), and Horse of the Year honors, as well a spot in the Hall of Fame and widespread glory at stud.

Omaha Beach (2019)

The aforementioned controversy regarding Maximum Security might never have happened at all if not for the scratch of Omaha Beach. One day after the post-position draw and his installation as the morning line favorite, Omaha Beach was scratched after the discovery of an entrapped epiglottis, which required surgery to correct.

A superior performer on sloppy tracks, Omaha Beach might have found the wet conditions on that Derby afternoon ideal if not for the poorly-timed breathing issue. And a lot of headaches, on and off the track, might well have been averted, too.