Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux made a successful return to his native Louisiana, guiding 4-5 favorite Exaggerator to a front-running victory in Saturday's $1-million Delta Downs Jackpot. Sunny Ridge finished second, a neck behind the winner, in the Grade 3 race, with Harlan Punch third and Found Money fourth in the field of 10 2-year-old colts and geldings. Time for the 1 1/16 miles on a muddy main track was 1:46.48.
Exaggerator, trained by Keith Desormeaux, the Hall of Fame jockey's brother, is a 2-year-old colt by Curlin owned by Matthew W. Bryan's Big Chief Racing. He was bred in Kentucky by Joseph B. Murphy. Big Chief Racing purchased Exaggerator (produced from the Vindication mare Dawn Raid) for $110,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sales from the consignment of Warrendale Sales.
This was the second win in the Jackpot for Kent Desormeaux, who took the race's first running aboard Outta Here in 2002.
Longshot Iron Dome shot to the early lead, the opening quarter mile in :23.49, but was engaged by Exaggerator rounding the first turn on the six-furlong oval. Desormeaux controlled the pace thereafter, the half mile in:47.53 and six furlongs in 1:13.47. Whitmore, an impressive maiden winner recently at Churchill Downs for trainer Ron Moquett, made a mild bid between horses going into the second turn, but Desormeaux let out a notch on Exaggerator, entering the stretch with a half-length advantage after a mile in 1:39.90. Harlan Punch made a three-wide bid into the lane, but Sunny Ridge, second to Greenpointcrusader in the Champagne, split horses to finish strongest, closing to within a neck of the winner.
The win was the third from six starts for Exaggerator, who was coming off a fourth-place finish to Nyquist in the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. Before that Exaggerator was second to Brody's Cause in the G1 Breeders' Futurity, also at Keeneland, and prior to that won the G2 Saratoga Special at Saratoga. He broke his maiden July 25 at Del Mar after finishing fifth in his debut at Santa Anita June 5.
“I told him (Kent) to get him settled and the rest is up to him,” said Keith Desormeaux on pre-race instructions to his brother. “He made the decision to get Exaggeratior to the lead. He could easily have taken him back. That's why he's in the Hall of Fame. That was Kent's judgment call. If he doesn't take the lead he could be eight wide on a bullring track.”
“It's making the Breeders' Cup (Juvenile) more aggravating,” said Kent Desormeaux.” I am certainly happy to do it (win the race) in front of the Louisiana fans and all racing fans. Today he was just allowed to be ridden, be himself and he could really run.”
Keith Desormeaux said that Exaggerator will not race for the rest of the year and will prepare the colt for his 3-year-old campaign in California. Asked about his Kentucky Derby prospects, the trainer said, “He's bred for it. He has the precociousness and the athleticism for it. The Derby is a long way off so we have time to recover and we had a fun trip today.”
The Jackpot also marked the return of 53-year-old jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who has not ridden since early 2014, when he failed to fulfill his mounts in Southern California and was suspended. After serving out the suspension, Valenzuela was issued an exercise rider's license by the California Horse Racing Board and a jockey's license in Louisiana. His mount in the Jackpot, Memories of Winter, was his only ride of the day. Prominent early, Memories of Winter faded to eighth. Valenzuela has indicated he may ride at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
“It felt great to be back,” said Valenzuela. “It was the first time he (Memories of Winter) had dirt in the face, and he got jostled a bit in the first turn and it took a toll on him.”
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