During Patch’s 3-year-old season, you probably know by now, the former Kentucky Derby contender gained notoriety for his physical condition lacking a left eye. But the popular colt could continue writing a different part of his story in Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Patch rallied from fourth in the stretch to win by a neck in his return race last month at Belmont Park. In the process, he showed Todd Pletcher the type of heart in the afternoon the trainer often sees in the mornings.
“He’s a durable kind of horse,” Pletcher said. “I’ve been amazed at how seamlessly he’s adapted to losing an eye. You’d never know it with any of his behavior and all of that stuff.
“I was very encouraged by his comeback race. It looked like at the top of the stretch he had too much to do. He kept finding a little more and got there in time. It was great to see him do that, then come back and have some productive breezes since then.”
Pletcher said that, ideally, the Stephen Foster would mark Patch’s third race off the layoff, not the second. That’s why the son of Union Rags was originally termed probable for Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race, then removed, and ultimately entered.
In the meantime, Pletcher and Patch’s owner/breeder, Calumet Farm, considered one more allowance test before jumping back to the stakes level.
“After talking with the guys at Calumet,” Pletcher said, “they were excited to go ahead and take a shot. He’s coming off a nice win, and there’s a lot of upside with a horse with a pedigree like his if you’re fortunate enough to win a Grade 1.
“…Hopefully he’s ready for this step up.”
Each of the Foster’s nine contenders are looking for their first score at the top level. The race, the headliner among five graded stakes on a blockbuster card under the Twin Spires, also offers a “Win and You’re In” trip back to Churchill for the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Post time is 9:39 p.m. ET with the race set to air on NBC Sports Network.
Luis Saez will ride Patch, while Pletcher has John Velazquez ticketed to ride his second entry, Uncle Mojo, who exits a 12 3/4-length allowance win on the Preakness Stakes undercard.
“They’re not going to get in each others’ way early on,” Pletcher said. “Uncle Mojo should be an early pace factor, and Patch will probably settle mid-pack somewhere.”
Patch’s resume includes a placing in the Louisiana Derby and third in the Belmont Stakes, whereas Uncle Mojo, a 4-year-old son of Uncle Mo, will head into stakes competition for the first time Saturday.
“He’s a horse we’ve always thought a lot of,” Pletcher said of Uncle Mojo. “He’s a horse that’s trained impressively. It seemed like the last time was the breakthrough race we thought was there. It’s a big jump from a one-other-than to a Grade 1, but it’s not just off the last win. We’ve always felt like he’s a horse with a lot of quality, and we hope he continues that forward ascent.”
Pletcher expects both Patch and Uncle Mojo to point to races at Saratoga after the Stephen Foster.