BALTIMORE -- Brad Cox-trained First Mission has been scratched from the Preakness on the advice of veterinarians, taking one of the top contenders out of the Triple Crown race 36 hours before post time.
Owner Godolphin and the Maryland Jockey Club announced the scratch early Friday, saying vets identified an issue with First Mission's left hind ankle.
"We are obviously very disappointed, but the welfare of the horse is our utmost concern, and we are going to take the necessary steps to determine the best course of action to get him back on the track," Godolphin USA bloodstock director Michael Banahan said. "It's unfortunate, but we know he's a very talented horse and I'm sure we'll have big days down the road with him."
Godolphin said First Mission would be evaluated further by Dr. Larry Bramlage at Rood and Riddle hospital in Kentucky.
The removal of First Mission leaves seven horses in the field for the $1.65 million race. He was the early second choice at odds of 5-2 behind only 8-5 favorite Mage, who won the Kentucky Derby.
"You don't like to see that," said Hall of Famer trainer Bob Baffert, who is back at a Triple Crown race for the first time in two years with contender National Treasure. "We still have another day to go. Trainers, we don't relax until we get the saddle on. Until I get the saddle on the horse, then you can just relax completely. It's one of those things where you don't want to wish any bad luck on anyone because we've all been there."
It's an all-too-familiar feeling this spring. Five horses were scratched for a variety of reasons in the days and hours leading up to the Derby, leaving 18 in the field that's usually a full 20.
That included favorite Forte on the day of the Derby, when Kentucky racing officials expressed concern about a bruised right front foot. Forte landed on the state's vet list, grounding him from racing for at least 14 days, and trainer Todd Pletcher was suspended 10 days for Forte failing a postrace drug test in New York in September.
Racing officials who own and operate tracks in Maryland have increased testing and veterinary review procedures for horses running in the Preakness and other top stakes races this weekend at Pimlico Race Course as preventative measures to limit injuries. That includes multiple independent doctors examining horses, with each one needing to be cleared before racing.
Seven horses died at Churchill Downs in the days leading up and on Derby day, and an eighth died the following week, putting the sport in a familiar negative spotlight when a cluster of fatalities happens, especially during Triple Crown season.