April 26, 2010 (LOUISVILLE, Ky.) -- Todd Pletcher thought he had more than a Kentucky Derby winner in Eskendereya.
The normally reserved Eclipse Award-winning trainer admits he believed the talented 3-year-old colt could become the first Triple Crown winner in more than 30 years.
"It's the first time I felt like we've got nearly the horse that could maybe withstand the three-race series," Pletcher said.
He'll never know.
Pletcher pulled Eskendereya (pronounced Es-ken-der-AE-ah) out of the Derby on Sunday due to swelling in his left front leg.
And while Pletcher could still send as many as six horses to the starting gate for next week's Derby as he tries to end his 0-for-24 streak in the Run for the Roses, he knows he lost something special.
"We've been fortunate to have some really, really good horses over the years," he said. "I don't think we ever had one at this stage of his development that's this good. ... He's special."
So special Pletcher and owner Ahmed Zayat figured it wasn't worth the risk once Pletcher noticed inflammation in the leg after Eskendereya's gallop over a sloppy track on Saturday.
The swelling grew worse overnight, and Pletcher sent Zayat a text at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning expressing his concerns.
Two hours later, Eskendereya's Derby was over.
Pletcher said Zayat "took it better than I would have."
"He says the horse comes first," Pletcher said. "He loves Eskendereya. He's not going to do anything to take any chances. ... It's not a phone call I wanted to make."
Eskendereya had been so dominant in winning the Wood Memorial and Fountain of Youth Stakes by a combined 18 1/4 lengths he would have easily been the morning line favorite when the expected 20-horse field is set Wednesday afternoon.
Now the Derby is wide open and bettors are certain to have a field day.