Exaggerator ‘full of energy’ following Preakness victory
Edited Press Release
Trainer Keith Desormeaux reported that Exaggerator was “full of energy” Sunday morning in the aftermath of his rousing 3 1/2-length upset over previously undefeated Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist in Saturday’s 141st Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
After losing all four of his previous meetings with Nyquist, including a second-place finish behind the champion at Churchill Downs two weeks earlier, Exaggerator was the recipient of a dream trip under Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux that propelled him to a decisive upset over the 3-5 favorite for Saturday’s middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
“The dream, honestly, is just having a horse that is consistent and has the ability to compete at this level. We do our best, honestly, to prepare and hope and make sure that we’ve done all we can to get the horse to the race in the best shape,” said Keith Desormeaux, the older brother of the jockey who launched his career in Maryland.
“Goodness, the actual feeling of winning, honestly, is still sinking in. I’ve been pretty good with these things all week, but I’m at a loss for words. I’m still processing it all.”
Campaigned by Big Chief Racing, Head of Plains Partners and Rocker O Ranch, Exaggerator had obstacles in his way in his past meetings with Nyquist, but the son of 2007 Preakness winner Curlin had a clear path to victory in the Preakness, in which he advanced along the inside as others in the field raced wide along the backstretch, comfortably reaching striking distance of the pacesetting Nyquist at the top of the stretch.
“When I watch the race again I want to focus on Nyquist instead of Exaggerator. I was confident at the top of the stretch when he was moving up to the leaders without being asked. Kent was still sitting like it was in morning exercise,” Keith Desormeaux said. “When he asked Exaggerator for his best, there had to be much left in the tank. Nyquist had pretty much been on the lead the whole way.
“At the top of the stretch, that’s a long way to go and I said, ‘We still have 24 seconds to go.’ At the eighth-pole, Kent made a swerve a little bit, and it looked like Nyquist might try to make an outside run but the distance never shortened all the way home.”
The Southern California-based trainer said he had second-guessed his brother’s riding strategy on the backstretch.
“I said ‘What is Kent doing?’ The rest of the field is five and six wide and Kent dove down on the rail. He made a strong move from the middle of the track right down there, and I know he’s doing that to protect Exaggerator from the throwback,” he said.
“I thought, ‘Kent didn’t ride in any races yesterday and might not know that the inside may be a quagmire.’ I didn’t get to talk about that, but after he assured me, ‘What are you worrying about?’ He took the horse down there during the warm-ups and thought it was fine. What were they doing five and six wide when Kent knew it was fine down there?”
Exaggerator, who captured the Santa Anita Derby (G1) by 6 1/4 lengths over a sloppy track, skipped over the sloppy, sealed track at Pimlico, where a record crowd of 135,256 attended the 14-race Preakness Day program that generated a record handle of $94,127,434.
“You know, his numbers are just as good on a dry track as they are in mud. The difference is that the other horses may not be as good,” Desormeaux said. “We run as fast on mud as we do on a dry track. Like I said before the race, ‘What we need is a fast pace, not a muddy track,’ and we got that.”
Although no match for Exaggerator and failing to hold off late-running Cherry Wine by a nose for second money, Nyquist held gamely in the stretch, considering that he attended the fastest first quarter of the 1 3/16-mile Preakness history while running alongside Uncle Lino past a :22.38 first quarter.
“It was not a suicidal pace yesterday; it was solid. They’re supposed to run that fast. It was suicidal in the Santa Anita Derby, and I told people, ‘Don’t get too high on him yet,” because a lot of the product of his performance was because of a pace meltdown,” Desormeaux said. “That was not true yesterday. And it’s not about a muddy track, man; it’s about an exceptional horse.”
Exaggerator will be given time to recover from his Preakness breakthrough at Pimlico before shipping to Belmont Park for a rematch with Nyquist in the Belmont Stakes (G1) in three weeks.
“I’m thinking (next) Sunday. I’m going to be here a while. That was one of the decisions I made after the Derby,” Desormeaux explained. “Horses are affected by a change in environment. This is their house. That 12-by-13 stall is their house, so they get comfortable. If I’m preaching about recovery, why would I take him out of the comfort of his house and move him somewhere else immediately after a tiring race?
“So he’ll be here a while. We’ll leave him here until at least Wednesday or Thursday, probably Sunday.”
Desormeaux said he was looking forward to continuing on the Triple Crown trail.
“It’s fun. This is fun, isn’t it? There’s no pressure,” he said. “There was no pressure on me yesterday. All the pressure was on Nyquist to keep the record perfect. Now that we’ve accomplished this, the pressure is even less. Honestly, the hard part in getting the horses to this level is the year of preparation in getting here. Keeping them happy. Keeping them refreshed. Massages. Sponge baths. Good grooms and great meals. It gets real simple after you do this. The real work is done."
Desormeaux said there won’t be any special training schedule to prepare his colt for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.
“It’s not about fitness at this point. It can’t be. It’s about pedigree. I can’t do much more in keeping his fitness. It’s there. My job in the next three weeks is freshening him and getting him strong and happy,” he stated.
“That mile-and-a-half deal, that’s more about pedigree than what I’m going to do in the morning. Another very important thing, I think, is Belmont is called Big Sandy for a reason. I think there have been some Triple Crown defeats because of some horses going in there too late. You have to get in there and train over the track and get those horses acclimated to the different surface. We’ll have plenty of time to do that. Pedigree wins the Belmont.
“I think my horse is a little more skewed toward distance, as far as pedigree is concerned,” Desormeaux continued. “It’s Curlin. Curlin could run all day. Curlin got beat a nose in the Belmont. Curlin is known in the industry as a classic-producing horse. And he’s out of a Vindication mare. Vindication was by Seattle Slew. It’s distance on top of distance. He should relish it, whereas Nyquist is out of a Forestry mare. Forestry is more skewed toward sprint and maxing out at a mile in most cases. Obviously, he’s proven that he can get a distance, the mile and a quarter in the Derby.”
While a rematch between Exaggerator and Nyquist in the Belmont will be played up, Desormeaux will just be happy to be at Belmont Park.
“I’m just an old country boy working in the trenches these last 30 years and now we’re competing on the highest level. My emotions are more toward gratitude and the satisfaction of getting to this level,” he said. “The rivalry or the fun, it’s there, but it doesn’t matter who is in the race. It’s the fact that we’re competing at this level.”
In addition to Exaggerator and Nyquist, the probables list for the Belmont Stakes includes Preakness runner-up Cherry Wine and his stablemate Brody’s Cause; Preakness fifth-place finisher Lani; and Suddenbreakingnews and Destin, the respective fifth and sixth-place finishers in the Kentucky Derby.
Exaggerator photos courtesy of Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club