Horse racing-Don't overlook Patch and Derby long shots
By Larry Fine
May 4 (Reuters) - The absence of a dominant horse suggests an open race in Saturday's 143rd Kentucky Derby and punters should not overlook Patch and the longshots in the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
Classic Empire, at 4-1, is the narrow early line favorite in the opener of the U.S. Triple Crown for three-year-old thoroughbreds, followed by Always Dreaming and McCracken at 5-1 with Irish War Cry a 6-1 choice in the 20-horse field.
Rain is in the forecast, with an estimated 60 percent chance on Friday night and a 40 percent chance of showers on Saturday. Despite the excellent draining at Churchill Downs, that can cause a wrinkle.
With the last four Derby races going to the favorite, the odds could weigh against yet another garland of roses draped around the favorite for a streak of five in a row not seen in over 120 years.
Then there is the good story, another tempting reason to consider those in the shadows of the primary contenders.
Foremost among them is Patch, the one-eyed horse who drew Gate 20, the farthest outside and a serene spot for a colt who will not see his competition when he breaks from the gate.
"We’re OK with it," said his trainer Todd Pletcher, who has sent out more than 4,200 winners, trained 10 Eclipse Award winners and had a Kentucky Derby winner in Super Saver in 2010. "There’s nothing outside to bother him, so that’s good.
"He’s been a good gate horse and I don’t see any problems,” added Pletcher, who is also saddling Always Dreaming and 20-1 shot Tapwrit.
Patch, rated 30-1, won fans with his second place last month in the Grade 1 Louisiana Derby.
Last June, Patch developed swelling and tearing in his left eye after a workout at Saratoga. The eye could not be saved and Patch has soldiered on with a hole where it used to be.
Among other interesting entries are Gunnevera (16-1), who made an impressive closing kick in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and will have jockey Javier Castellano aboard.
Lookin At Lee (25/1) has been a consistently strong closer and will be ridden by Corey Lanerie, who has won 10 of the last 11 jockey titles at Churchill Downs.
Irap (20/1) won the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and is trained by Doug O’Neill, who has two Derby winners in the past six years.
(Writing by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Gene Cherry)