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.”

Victor Espinoza plans comeback in late December

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza is planning a comeback in late December after fracturing a vertebra in his neck during a training accident at Del Mar.

That’s according to his agent Brian Beach, who says Friday that Espinoza saw his doctors this week and they are pleased with his progress. However, they’re not yet ready to release the 46-year-old Hall of Fame jockey to ride again.

Beach says on his Twitter account that Espinoza “wants to be 100 percent when he comes back.”

A late December return would allow Espinoza to ride at Santa Anita, which opens its winter-spring meet on Dec. 26.

Espinoza got hurt July 22 when he fell while exercising a horse.

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

Vale Dori scores upset win for Baffert in Zenyatta Stakes

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Vale Dori defeated La Force by three-quarters of a length to win the $300,000 Zenyatta Stakes in an upset at Santa Anita on Sunday.

Abel Tasman, the 1-9 favorite trained by Bob Baffert, finished next-to-last, beaten 10 1/2 lengths. Vale Dori, an 11-1 shot also trained by Baffert, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.88 under Joe Talamo. The Grade 1 victory earned her an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3.

Vale Dori snapped a six-race skid.

Bettors waged $474,683 to show on Abel Tasman, who was fresh off a pair of Grade 1 victories in New York under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. But she broke poorly from the starting gate and never fired.

“I’m as shocked as everybody else, but they’ll do that,” Baffert said. “I’m worried about (Abel Tasman) because Mike said she was lethargic, and she’s up there where all these sick horses are, so I hope she’s not getting sick.”

Vale Dori returned $24.60, $13.20 and $40.60. She earned $180,000, and increased her career earnings to $1,365,567.

La Force paid $8.40 and $14.60. Shenandoah Queen was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third and paid $26.60 to show.