How Often Does A Kentucky Derby Horse Scratch Before The Race?

How often does a Kentucky Derby horse scratch before the big race? It actually happens more often than one might think. It is not unheard of for horses to scratch — be declared out of the race — the day before the Derby, much like what happened for the winner of the 2022 Run for the Roses.

A lot of things had to go wrong in order for things to go right for 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike. Most importantly, he had to get into the starting gate in order to win the race. And due to a miraculous string of events, Rich Strike was able to win the “Run for the Roses” as an 80-1 longshot.

A late scratch of contender Ethereal Road in the final moments before the Friday deadline for “also-eligible” horses to get into the big race allowed Rich Strike the chance he needed. 

Some NJ horse betting patrons were lucky enough to get back $163.60 on $2 win bets on the horse trained by Eric Reed and ridden by jockey Sonny Leon, who were both competing in America’s most prestigious race for the first time.

But how Rich Strike got into the Kentucky Derby field on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs is almost as astonishing as his winning odds and incredible wagering payouts.

How Late Can A Horse Scratch In Order For Another Horse To Get Into The Derby?

The Kentucky Derby sets a 9:00 AM deadline on Friday for AE (also-eligible) horses to be declared out of the Derby. The deadline coincides with the official opening of the betting pools for the Derby.

NJ horse betting handicappers were allowed to start betting on the Kentucky Derby online at 9:00 AM on Friday, just a few minutes after Rich Strike trainer Reed found out his horse would be in the race following the scratch of D. Wayne Lukas runner Ethereal Road.

Last year, Kentucky Derby contender King Fury spiked a 104-degree fever on Friday, prompting trainer Kenny McPeek to scratch the colt from the big race the following day. However, there were no horses on the grounds in the also-eligible list, and the race ran with 19 runners, instead of the maximum 20.

It was in the 2020 Kentucky Derby that Bob Baffert trainee Thousand Words was scratched just minutes before the Derby that was held in September due to it being postponed due to COVID-19. Thousand Words was keyed-up before the race, and actually flipped in the paddock, hurting himself and injuring Baffert’s top assistant trainer.

With that late of an incident, there was no time to replace a scratched runner with another of the “also-eligible” list, which is the list of backup runners should another horse in the field scratch. After 9:00 AM on Friday, there are no more substitutions allowed.

Thousand Words wasn’t the only horse who scratched from the 2020 Derby, but he was the only one who had NJ horse betting handicappers scrambling to find a new horse to bet on with not much time before the race.

Finnick the Fierce scratched from the 2020 Kentucky Derby on Friday with a leg injury and King Guillermo spiked a temperature on Thursday, necessitating his scratch. Possible second-favorite Art Collector also scratched from the Derby in the week leading up to the big race due to a foot injury.

Was The 2022 Kentucky Derby The First Time A Horse Wore the Number 21 Saddlecloth?

In 2019, Derby favorite Omaha Beach required epiglottis surgery and scratched from the mile and a quarter Classic days before Haikal was found to have an abscess in his left front hoof. The scratches of those horses allowed Bodexpress to get into the Derby off the AE list and wearing saddlecloth #21.

Unlike Rich Strike, Bodexpress would finish 14th in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, at odds of 71-1. Bodexpress was the second horse to wear the #21 in the Derby. In 2015, Frammento drew into the race following late scratches of El Kabeir, International Star, and Stanford.

Frammento finished 11th, at odds of 69.5-1, a mere 12 lengths behind American Pharoah, who would go on to win the Triple Crown in 2015.

Up until 2001, the Kentucky Derby grouped longshots together as a “field bet” giving NJ betting patrons and the rest of America a chance to bet many horses as one betting interest. It wouldn’t be until 2002 that there was a #20 betting interest–late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner’s Blue Burner.

But, only Rich Strike has won the Derby as the #21. He started from the #20 stall in the starting gate, a post that was represented only once previously by a winner–2008 Kentucky Derby favorite Big Brown.

Been There, Done That, Didn’t Wear That T-shirt

It wasn’t only that Rich Strike needed Ethereal Road (or any other Derby contender) to scratch by 9 AM on Friday that makes his story so spectacular.

He finished fourth in the 2022 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park, a race that earned him one crucial point in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points standings. He would finish third in the next Derby prep race at Turfway, earning 20 points in the Jeff Ruby Steaks. His 21 points put him on the outside looking in as far as getting into the Kentucky Derby, but he amassed enough points to make the AE list.

But to go from finishing behind a few horses at Turfway Park to beating all 19 other contenders on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs is what helped put many dollars in NJ horse betting patrons’ pockets.

Only Donerail in 1913 had higher odds as a Kentucky Derby when he won at 91-1 odds, ridden by jockey Roscoe Goose.

With a blistering early pace of 21.78 seconds for the first quarter mile by front-runner Summer Is Tomorrow, the front pack of horses got to the first half mile in 45.36 seconds–which is extremely fast. It became apparent that some horses near the front may tire going the full distance of 10 furlongs.

Rich Strike, who was in 15th place when the leaders had traversed the first mile, began zig-zagging under Leon, trying to find, and often not finding running room. It wasn’t until the leaders were in the lane heading for home that Rich Strike started picking off tiring horses one by one.

Even NBC race announcer Larry Collmus seemed surprised when very late in the race, a fresh running Rich Strike caught up to the leaders and passed them before the finish line, winning one of the most improbable Derbies of all time.

It was so improbable, that Rich Strike wasn’t even listed on the official Kentucky Derby t-shirt.

About the Author

Ryan Dickey

Ryan Dickey has worked in the gaming industry for parts of three decades, with stints at two Las Vegas casinos, as a journalist covering horse racing, and in the sports betting realm as part of a handicapping service. Once again a Vegas resident, he continues his involvement in horse racing as an owner and public handicapper. He has a penchant for online casino offers as well as finding opportunities on various sports betting platforms.