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.”

Baffert sweeps Grade 1 two-year-old races at Los Alamitos

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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. — Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert swept the CashCall Futurity and Starlet for 2-year-olds, winning the Grade 1 races for the second straight year at Los Alamitos.

Improbable won the $300,345 Futurity by five lengths as the 1-5 favorite and 3-2 favorite Chasing Yesterday won the $300,345 Starlet by a head on Saturday. Drayden Van Dyke became the second jockey to win both races in the same year.

Baffert earned his fifth straight victory in the Futurity and his 11th overall, having won it six times at old Hollywood Park.

Improbable ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.18 and paid $2.40 to win. The colt’s ownership includes most of the group that owned Triple Crown winner Justify.

In the Starlet, Chasing Yesterday ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.59 and paid $5 to win. She is a half-sister to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, also trained by Baffert.

Victor Espinoza aims for January comeback

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DEL MAR, Calif. — Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza is aiming to return to riding in January, six months after he was seriously injured in a training accident.

The 46-year-old rider says he had an MRI recently and “it came out perfect.” Espinoza says he doesn’t need surgery and his spinal cord has healed “perfectly,” which was his main concern.

He fractured a vertebra in his neck at Del Mar last July when the horse he was exercising fell.

Espinoza was back at Del Mar on Saturday for the first time since the accident. He presented the trophy to the winning connections in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. He has been recuperating at his Del Mar home.

Espinoza says he hopes to return sometime in January at Santa Anita. The track opens its winter meet on Dec. 26.

He rode American Pharoah to a Triple Crown sweep in 2015.