Country championship qualifier-winning trainer David Smith has been forced to exercise caution with 2019 hopeful Bel Diablo after his four-year-old stable star picked up a virus, forcing the bay gelding's scratching ahead of Sunday's Central District Racing Association meet at Mudgee.
Smith rode the highs of the championship series in 2017 when Distinctive Look stormed to victory at Wellington but on Wednesday experienced the "heart-breaking" lows of the industry ahead of the biggest race in the district.
The super impressive four-year-old powered to a three-and-a-half length victory over a class field at Quirindi on February 15 and would have jumped as one of the favourites to give Smith a second heat triumph in three years on Sunday, but the Mudgee-based trainer says the bay gelding hasn't pulled up right and is now battling a virus.
As a result he won't push Bel Esprit by Devils Arcade gelding ahead of Sunday's heat.
Bel Diablo would have been Smith's only chance in Sunday's qualifier.
... we believe you take care of your horse and he will look after you, plenty of good times to come with him.Mudgee trainer David Smith on Bel Diablo, a horse he was forced to scratch on Wednesday.
"Just absolutely gutted," Smith said.
"But it's a part of racing people don't see too often and to have him so close to his grand final that had been in the making for 10 months, both the stable and owners are definitely heart broken."
Bel Diablo has won three races in his 13 starts, with three seconds and three thirds on his resume as well.
"But we all understand the horse's welfare is paramount and all necessary precautions will be taken to see him back to his best," Smith added.
"We believed he was a definite live chance not only in the heat but also the final if we made it there.
"No words can really express how connections feel this point in time but we believe you take care of your horse and he will look after you, plenty of good times to come with him and his time will come around we just have to be patient."
Weights for the 1400m heat were released on Wednesday, with Cameron Crockett's Ori On Fire set to jump as the top weight with 57.5 kilograms.
Dean Mirfin's I Am Capitan is next after being allocated 56kgs.