LOUISVILLE — The horse who had been among the more well-regarded contenders for the 140th Kentucky Derby was conspicuous by his absence Thursday morning.
Trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the bay colt would miss the signature race in his sport.
Graded stakes winner Hoppertunity, who was the 6-1 second choice on the morning line for the Kentucky Derby, was scratched from the first leg of the Triple Crown because of a potential bruise in his left front foot, Baffert said Thursday morning.
Owned by Mike Pegram, Paul Weitman, and Karl Watson, Hoppertunity did not go to the track to train Thursday. Baffert said they first noticed the winner of the Grade II Rebel Stakes was off Wednesday morning and that he would be sent to Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington for a scan and diagnosis.
"We're going to have Dr. Larry Bramlage today look at it," Baffert said. "(We noticed it) yesterday a little bit when he came out, but then he warmed out of it. Then I schooled him yesterday and he was fine and we brought him out here and jogged him for my vet and he jogged fine.
"It's something he warms out of ... but I don't feel comfortable with it. We're pretty sure it's the foot, but we want to make sure there is nothing else wrong with him so we can continue on with him to the Preakness maybe. The timing obviously is horrible."
Baffert added that Hoppertunity's left front leg "is ice cold" all the way down and that the foot itself has no heat in it. The Hall of Fame conditioner said he could have sent the colt to the track Thursday morning and was hesitant to even categorize the setback as an injury.
"It's really a head scratcher," Baffert said. "I had three vets clear him today and they really couldn't see anything. There is nothing obvious on him."
Baffert, a three-time Derby winner, will still saddle Sunland Derby winner Chitu in Saturday's classic. Chitu has been battling seedy toe, a fungus condition, but Baffert termed that issue more cosmetic.
Hoppertunity won the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 15 in his fourth career start and was second to Kentucky Derby favorite California Chrome in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 5.
Hoppertunity was attempting to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old.
"It makes me very sad, I can tell you that right now," said Art Sherman, trainer of California Chrome. "I'm a real good friend of Mike Pegram and I know how Bob must feel. It just shows you how fragile some of these horses are.
"Sometimes it reminds me of being like a piece of glass getting ready to break. You have to be so lucky just to make it to the starting gate."
Hoppertunity had his final work for the Kentucky Derby on Monday, breezing 4 furlongs in 48 seconds flat over a sloppy track.
"It was probably something like that," Baffert said when asked if he thought training over the wet track might have caused the foot ailment. "But I mean, he worked well; he came out of it well. He was very live so I feel bad for the owners. He likes this track, he trained well over it, and the distance is his distance."
Hoppertunity coming out leaves the door open for Pablo Del Monte, the lone also-eligible horse entered, to get into the Derby field. Trainer Wesley Ward, who is still in Florida, said Thursday that the decision would be left up to owners Coolmore Stud on whether Pablo Del Monte would start.
"It's a decision most horsemen in the world would want to have," Ward said. "Breaking from post 20 is very difficult. But having had this horse born and raised on my ranch, ... and to take him all the way to this point, it would be the greatest honor of my life."
Since Hoppertunity drew post position No. 11, every entrant outside of him would move in one position in the starting gate, giving Pablo Del Monte the No. 20.
Baffert said they would probably get the results from Hoppertunity's scan sometime Friday afternoon.
"It's hard on the owners, but at the same time, the horse is fine. He doesn't have an injury; he's just not 100 percent on that foot. I wanted him to come out of his stall 100 percent, and he didn't do that today."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.