Mucciolo: Exaggerator running in the Haskell for the wrong reasons

Profile Picture: John Mucciolo

July 29th, 2016

Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist and Preakness (G1) hero Exaggerator will face off in the $1 Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park on Sunday, but an exciting stretch duel between the pair is not something I am envisioning.

While I have not been the biggest believer in Nyquist for most of his career -- questioning his pedigree, the foes he is beating and his running style to stay classic distances -- I actually gained a ton of respect for him in his defeat last time out in the sloppy Preakness. The Doug O'Neill trainee gets clean trips because of his fine natural speed, the colt has won from off or on the pace over various ovals, and he loves a fight while never backing down.

The champion went way too fast in the Preakness early on, but showed heart all the way to the wire and I respect that quality a whole lot. He will be formidable on Sunday with something like his best effort on a racetrack that suits his forwardly placed style.

Exaggerator is one I like more than the aforementioned when running at classic distances and this colt has carried fine form throughout his racing career. The Keith Desormeaux pupil has a big turn of foot and is push-button in that he goes whenever given his cue. But I have no interest in him this weekend.

The son of Afleet Alex was first possibly headed to the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga as a prep run for the Travers (G1) later at that meeting, but his conditioner decided against it. Then earlier this week, the co-owner of Exaggerator, Matt Bryan of Big Chief Racing, told the media that Exaggerator would be trying the Haskell. That sounds too much to me like an owner picking the race and not the conditioner doing so, which we don't like one bit.

"If we really want to compete for three-year-old colt of the year, we need to race Nyquist..and the Haskell sets up. It's a Grade 1 worth a lot of money, so it's very exciting," Bryan said. He also stated: "The work last week wasn't the best work."

Trainer Keith Desormeaux said, among other things, the following: "Obviously, our end-of-season goal is to be able to run in the [Breeders' Cup] Classic (G1). If we're lucky enough to win the Haskell, we're talking about major savings. So from the economic angle it was the obvious choice."

Take nothing away from this fine colt, but if there is a time to bet against the late runner, this seems to be an ideal one. Running for economic reasons or to enhance his championship claims doesn't mean the horse is ready for a peak performance.

(Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)