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.”

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.