Louisville, Ky. — Buddha hung his head. So did trainer Jim Bond.
The handsome gray colt, one of the favorites for today's Kentucky Derby, was scratched with a bruised foot on the eve of the race and sadness replaced confidence and excitement at Barn 48.
"I always said if there was a bump we wouldn't do it, and there's a bump in the road," said a despondent Bond, who had hoped to saddle his first Derby starter. "It's very disappointing for my clients and myself, but Buddha will have another day,"
The Wood Memorial winner was the 5-1 co-second choice with Came Home on the morning line. Bond decided to pull out of the race after arriving at the barn and seeing his colt favoring his left front foot.
Buddha's jockey Pat Day said it was almost as if the horse knew what it all meant.
"He sensed what was going on," said Day, who later picked up a Derby ride aboard George Steinbrenner's Blue Burner the Hall of Famer's 19th straight Derby mount. "He had his head down like 'I'm really sorry.' "
The scratch reminded fans of the shock and surprise of Derby favorite A.P. Indy being removed from the field due to injury on race day, 1992.
Despite Buddha's departure, the Derby remains wide-open with 19 3-year-olds running for the roses. The scratch alters the gate order because Buddha was in the No. 10 post. Now the first gate will be vacant, with Johannesburg moving to the No. 2 spot and posts 3-9 also moving one gate to the right.
Even though there were contenders shut out of a maximum 20-horse field, there are no additions once official entries are drawn.
Still, this Derby has a little something for everyone. Sheik Mohammed, minister of defense for the United Arab Emirates, is trying to win it with Essence of Dubai. So is a bush-track trainer from Oklahoma with It'sallinthechase.
The Irish are here, too, with Johannesburg, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, and stablemate Castle Gandolfo. Both galloped nearly a mile at Keeneland on Friday after coming out of quarantine. They'll be vanned 70 miles to Churchill Downs this morning.
"There's always a chance when you come all this way that they won't settle," said Michael Tabor, part of the Coolmore partnership that owns the horses. "But they seem delighted. So far, so good."
Only four foreign horses have won; the most recent was Sunny's Halo from Canada in 1983.
Harlan's Holiday, the 9-2 favorite, hopes to become only the second Ohio-bred to win; Private Emblem could be the first New York-bred to do it; and Easy Grades and Perfect Drift are trying to win one for fellow geldings the last winner was Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.
Came Home, winner of the Santa Anita Derby and six of seven starts, may be overlooked because of questions about his ability to last the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles.
"I'm confident," jockey Chris McCarron said.
The co-third choices at 6-1 are Medaglia d'Oro and Johannesburg.
Bobby Frankel, who trains Wood runner-up Medaglia d'Oro, may have a lightly raced colt, but he's not worried.
"He's got something better talent," Frankel said.
He's also got Laffit Pincay, Jr., who, at 55, would be the oldest rider to win the Derby.
Under the tightest security ever at Churchill Downs more than 1,000 armed national guardsmen patrolled the grounds for the Kentucky Oaks the Derby could turn into one of the best betting races in years.
"This is very difficult to sort out," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. "You've got horses coming from all over and you have trouble putting the talent together on a handicapping basis."
Lukas' colt, Proud Citizen, came out of nowhere two weeks ago with a victory in the Lexington Stakes and now the Hall of Famer has a shot at his fifth Derby victory.
Sheik Mohammed's sleek Essence of Dubai a $2.3 million buy is Godolphin Racing's fourth attempt to win the Derby. The son of Pulpit could have an advantage he's the only one in the field who has won at 1 1/4 miles.
"We just have to see how he stands up to the other horses here, knowing that the competition in Dubai may not have been as stiff," said Tom Albertrani, the American assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
Trainer Wilson Brown, from Jones, Okla., never dreamed of being in this spot, yet It'sallinthechase is among four 50-1 shots. He paid $27,000 for the bay colt, who was ninth in his last race, the Arkansas Derby.
"You know how, in a fleeting moment, you say to yourself, 'Wouldn't that be something? Kind of like flying to the moon or such, only you don't ever get to see it?"' the 59-year-old Brown said. "That's what this is like."
Derby fever, indeed.
Like Lukas, Bob Baffert has it, too. Without a starter three weeks ago, the two-time Derby winning trainer will saddle expected pacesetter War Emblem and surprise entry Danthebluegrassman.
War Emblem won the Illinois Derby, and a few days later he was bought by Saudi prince Ahmed Salman and put in Baffert's barn. On Wednesday, Baffert entered Danthebluegrassman, last in the Santa Anita Derby.
"If this horse wins the Derby, it'll be the best and shortest training job ever," Baffert said, referring to War Emblem. "He's as ready as he can be."
Saarland, at 15-1, is the Phipps' family's first Derby horse since trainer Shug McGaughey sent out Easy Goer, who was second to Sunday Silence in 1989. The colt is owned by the daughter of Ogden Phipps, the patriarch of the racing family who died last month.
Harlan's Holiday, with Edgar Prado aboard, has reeled off six wins and four seconds in 10 career starts. His latest victories, in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, have been impressive even if the times have been slow.
"I've got a lot of horse left," trainer Kenny McPeek said. "He's been great up to now, and he seems to be maintaining. We're real confident."