Exaggerator displaying plenty of energy ahead of Belmont Stakes
Edited Press Release
Even on his day off, Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Exaggerator, the 9-5 program favorite for Saturday's $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1), showed plenty of energy while walking for trainer Keith Desormeaux on a sunny but blustery Thursday morning at Belmont Park.
The dark bay son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin was scheduled to school in the paddock during Thursday's live races, the opener of the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival capped by the 148th running of the 1 1/2-mile "Test of the Champion."
"He only had a walk day today. I can't believe people are actually interested if he ate up his feed last night, but he did," Desormeaux said. "That's what we look for as trainers. (He was) full of life and vigor when we walked him this morning. I'm sure a lot of that had to do with this crazy weather. Mother Nature forgot to tell New York it's summertime."
Exaggerator is scheduled to have a light gallop Friday morning and may school again in the paddock depending on how Thursday's session goes.
"We're going to make a decision today on how he acts," Desormeaux said. "If he's a little too feisty today we're going to take him back again tomorrow."
Exaggerator – campaigned by Big Chief Racing, Head of Plains Partners and Rocker O Ranch – drew post 11 of 13 for the Belmont, with only multiple Grade 1 winner Brody's Cause and Arkansas Derby (G1) victor Creator to his outside, all late-running types.
The starting gate is positioned at the finish line for the Belmont, with a run of three-sixteenths of a mile to the clubhouse turn.
"Just because it's a little shorter run into the first turn here, it seems it would be a disadvantage to be on the outside," Desormeaux said. "If I had a speed horse, I'd be worried. But Exaggerator breaks, drops the bit and relaxes so he should have plenty of opportunity to drop in closer to the rail going into that first turn."
Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, Keith's younger brother, will take his customary spot aboard Exaggerator. Among the jockey's seven career Triple Crown race victories is the 2009 Belmont with Summer Bird.
"It's not the mile and a half; of course that comes into play, too. It's the close run-up to the turn. The more experienced, the more tactical hands you can have has got to be for the better, and I think I've got a pretty good jockey," Keith Desormeaux said.
"We'll touch on (strategy). I leave that basically up to him. I give him a few reminders. I let him know how the horse is in the paddock. I might say, 'Kent he's really fired up here in the paddock, you might want to warm him up a little more or get him as far as the activity as you can.' The actual race, that's in Kent's hands."
The Belmont will be just the fourth time in 12 lifetime starts that Exaggerator will go off as the favorite and first this year. He's won twice as the bettors' choice, a Del Mar maiden victory and the Delta Downs Jackpot (G3), and was second by a length to Belmont contender Brody's Cause in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) last fall at Keeneland.
Based on Exaggerator's ability to recover quickly from his races, Desormeaux enters the Belmont with confidence.
"Regardless of what I think, it's obvious that you couldn't get him any better than he is now. He's very sound, he's very fresh. He seems very confident," he said. "I talk about his antics and his energy all the time but it's controlled energy. It's not nervous. A lot of horses, you can misjudge all that energy as nervous energy, which they will waste, and the term that we use is 'wash out,' before a race. But that's not how he is. He's very confident and he should be sitting on a huge race."
Exaggerator and Keith Desormeaux photo courtesy of Harold Roth/Horsephotos.com