All eyes will be on a 1-eyed colt named Patch at Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) His name is Patch, a horse with one eye, and he’ll be running in the Kentucky Derby. How he lost the eye is a mystery.

“No one really knows,” trainer Todd Pletcher said.

Pletcher has two other horses going in the first leg of the Triple Crown at Churchill Downs – Always Dreaming and Tapwrit. But if Patch comes up big, he’ll be the first Derby winner with one eye.

As it turns out, Patch is not the first visually impaired colt to run for Pletcher at the Derby. In 2004, Pollard’s Vision finished 17th. Pollard’s Vision had sight in only one eye when Pletcher purchased him as a 2-year-old. It didn’t prevent him from becoming a multiple stakes winner of more than $1.4 million.

Patch has adjusted to a limited field of vision. But the circumstances surrounding his condition are murky.

“We came in one morning and his eye was a little bit swollen, and he was tearing heavily,” Pletcher said.

There was no evidence of additional trauma, suggesting the colt had fallen or run into an object. Aggressive treatment failed and the eye was removed.

“Everyone is stumped as to exactly what happened,” Pletcher said.

Once Patch recovered, Pletcher wondered how he would respond. The horse had already started training. It was never an issue.

“We thought there might be a period where he needed to adjust, that he would carry himself a little differently,” Pletcher said. “Actually, he showed no ill effects from it at all.”

Patch has one win in three starts. He earned his way into this race with a second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby.

Patch figures to be a long shot Saturday, but already he has a following among racing fans and on social media.

“I kind of anticipated Patch would become pretty popular,” Pletcher said. “It’s an intriguing story and he’s a really, really cool horse to be around. He’s very laid back, very professional, very straightforward to train.”

Wood Memorial boosts purse to attract top horses

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NEW YORK — The Wood Memorial purse could increase to $1 million as part of a bonus created to entice the top 3-year-olds to run in the Kentucky Derby prep on April 7.

New York Racing Association officials said Saturday that the presence of any horse in the field with a previous Grade 1 or Group 1 victory would increase the purse from $750,000 to $1 million if the qualifying horse starts. In that case, the winner would receive $590,000, the runner-up would earn $190,000 and third would be worth $90,000.

The Wood is run at 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct. The race is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby prep series that awards 100 points to the winner, 40 to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth. The top 20 horses on the leaderboard earn starting spots in the Derby on May 5.

Jack Van Berg dies at 81

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Jack Van Berg, a Hall of Fame trainer who oversaw Alysheba to victories in the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, died Wednesday. He was 81.

He died in a Little Rock, Arkansas, hospital, according to a spokeswoman for Oaklawn Park, where Van Berg had relocated his training base after leaving Southern California in 2013. No cause was given.

Van Berg ranks fourth all-time among trainers in North America, with 6,523 victories from 41,164 starts, according to Equibase. He had career purse earnings of $85,925,482.

In the Derby, Alysheba and jockey Chris McCarron were nearly knocked down at the top of the stretch by Bet Twice. Alysheba recovered and won despite having just one career victory before the Run for the Roses. Alysheba won the Preakness to set up a try for the Triple Crown but finished fourth in the Belmont.

As a 4-year-old, Alysheba won the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic and went on to earn the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.

Van Berg saddled Gate Dancer to victory in the 1984 Preakness. That same year, he earned the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer.

Van Berg was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985. His father, trainer Marion Van Berg, already was there, having entered in 1970.

From 1959-77, Van Berg was the leading trainer at Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack in Omaha, Nebraska. In 1976, he won a record 496 races and was the nation’s leading trainer, with $2,976,196 in purse earnings.

In 1987, Van Berg became the first trainer to win 5,000 races when he saddle Art’s Chandelle to victory at Arlington Park outside Chicago.

He trained in Southern California for 41 years until moving to Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Arkansas, after Hollywood Park closed in December 2013. Van Berg blamed the cities of Inglewood and Los Angeles and the state of California for the track’s closure.

“I just think it’s a pathetic thing,” he said at the time. “It’s ridiculous to let something like this that so many people love and thrive on close. They did everything they could to kill racing. I’ve had enough. I don’t like California racing anymore. I don’t like the way they run it and what they do.”

Van Berg mentored Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who began as an assistant to him.

Born June 7, 1936, in Columbus, Nebraska, John Charles Van Berg began training for his father in the 1960s. The elder Van Berg trained nearly 1,500 winners but was more successful as an owner, winning 4,691 races and $13,936,965. He was the first inductee of the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame, and his son followed him.