As Kentucky Derby long shot Patch got his post-gallop bath in front of fans and media Tuesday morning, one of the onlookers pointed out the one-eyed bay colt and told a friend “every mother and grandmother is going to be betting that horse.”
Las Vegas oddsmakers put Patch’s chances at 35-1 Tuesday, but the real morning line comes out after Wednesday’s 11 a.m. post position draw. Regardless, Patch figures to be a favorite among those who love hard-luck heroes.
Last year, an ulcer developed on the globe of his left eye and, no matter the treatment, it grew worse and wouldn’t heal. His name, originally given as a nod to his sire, 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, (rags/patches), suddenly became much more fitting after it was determined the eye would have to be removed.
Worried that Patch might have trouble transitioning to the vision loss, trainer Todd Pletcher sent him to his father’s Peyton Training Center in Ocala, Fla.
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“In the short time he was there, my dad (J.J. Pletcher) said ‘he’s training fantastic. I don’t see any problems,’” Pletcher said outside his barn area Tuesday.
Patch went out Tuesday morning with one of Pletcher’s two other horses, Tapwrit. Both galloped a mile and a half during the 8:30-8:45 a.m. special training period for Derby and Kentucky Oaks contenders. Pletcher opted for a 5:45 a.m. gallop for Always Dreaming.
While his handlers are somewhat wary of spooking Patch, they’ve also been testing him on the track to make sure he’s ready for the crowd.
“We’ve experimented in the mornings putting him in tight quarters with other horses and he’s handled it better than a lot of horses with two good eyes,” Pletcher said.
Only three races
The injury cost Patch his entire 2-year-old campaign, so lack of experience rather than any impairment is more of a concern.
“It’s a huge challenge for any horse to come in with only three races. Ideally, we’d love to have another start or two, but he also showed in only his third start and his first time around two turns that he was a strong-closing second in the Louisiana Derby,” Pletcher said. “He’s by a Belmont winner. He’s out of an A.P. Indy mare. We think the (mile-and-a-quarter Derby) distance is ideal for him. If anything, the (mile-and-a-half) Belmont would be even a better distance for him.”
One of Calumet Farm’s three homebreds in Saturday’s race, Patch appeared to be closing on Louisiana Derby winner and fellow Kentucky Derby hopeful Girvin as they hit the wire at the Fair Grounds on April 1. His only other action was a second in his first start at Gulfstream on Jan. 15 and a win there just more than a month later.
Jockey Tyler Gaffalione had the mount for Patch’s rally against Girvin and will be up again this weekend.
“You’d like a little more seasoning,” Pletcher said. “But it’s where he is. The horse is training well. He handles everything mentally amazingly well.”
As for being a sentimental favorite, Pletcher said Patch deserves the attention.
“I’m just proud of the horse,” he said. “It speaks volumes about just how classy he is, how great of a disposition he has. He’s got a wonderful attitude of mind. He’s literally taken the loss of his left eye in stride. It’s never seemed to faze him at all.”
Kentucky Derby week
At Churchill Downs in Louisville
11 a.m.: Kentucky Derby post-position draw (Live stream on Kentucky Derby.com)
6:12 p.m.: Kentucky Oaks (NBC Sports Network)
6:46 p.m.: Kentucky Derby (NBC)