Reunited with Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux for the first time since their 3 ½-length victory in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes May 21, Exaggerator breezed five furlongs Tuesday morning in his final work prior to Saturday's 148th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
The likely favorite for the Belmont, at 1 ½ miles, the last and longest leg of the Triple Crown, Exaggerator went out at 8:45 a.m. following the renovation break and completed the distance in 1:00 4/5 over a fast main track at Belmont Park.
Strangely, the sophomore son of Curlin bore out from the two-path to nearly the six-path at the top of the stretch, switching from his left lead to his right near the five-sixteenths pole instead of waiting until he straightened into the lane. Jockey Desormeaux was able to get him straightened out fairly quickly, but the colt's pinned ears crossing under the wire seemed an aberration from the norm.
By comparison, the gallop-out was very impressive. Daily Racing Form clocker Mike Welsch caught Exaggerator in a six-furlong time of 1:12.91, and pulling up after seven-eighths in 1:27.87.
“I think the best answer I can say is, in comparison, he was the same. Good energy, lots of fluidity,” Kent Desormeaux said. “So, all systems go.”
It was the first work for Exaggerator since a week before his second-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby May 7. He came back two weeks later to upset previously undefeated Derby winner Nyquist in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course, arriving in New York on May 29.
“That's a good thing being the same after two races in a little over four weeks today. It'll be five weeks on Saturday,” trainer Keith Desormeaux said. “As a trainer, the time is of secondary importance. You want to see the horse recover after the work. If I get back to the barn and he's bug-eyed and he's sweating and he's panting, then that means he struggled over the track. When I got back to the barn, his sweat had already dried up. He had a nice calm, confident look in his eye and he was under control, so it looks like we're in good shape.”
His connections continue to praise Big Chief Racing, Head of Plains Partners and Rocker O Ranch's Exaggerator for his ability to recover quickly, morning or afternoon.
“[After the work] his recovery was 20 feet. He took a deep breath, I turned him around, he sucked some air in and walked home like he had just been stable walking,” Kent Desormeaux said. “He did switch leads early. I probably knocked him off balance. It was probably my fault. It was no concern of mine. I gave it to him, he floated the turn for maybe 20, 40, 50 yards, I asked him to come back to center which for me is the two path. He straightened away to the eighth pole, I asked him to quicken and he was full of life and full of speed.”
Keith Desormeaux, starting his first horse in the Belmont, a race his brother won in 2009 with Summer Bird, watched the breeze from the box seat area at the finish line above the winner's circle.
“[Kent] made the perfect comment to me when [he] said he has never been on his left lead that long. That's exactly right. These are huge, sweeping turns here. He wasn't accustomed to being on that left lead that long, so that's why he switched to his right early at the five-sixteenths pole. It's a perfect reason,” Keith Desormeaux said. “Regardless, it wasn't a concern.”
West Point Thoroughbreds' Joe Migliore captured the following video of the work:
Entries will be taken and post positions drawn Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Rock Center Café and Summer Garden in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.
Exaggerator is expected to head a field of 13 along with Brody's Cause, Cherry Wine, Creator, Destin, Forever d'Oro, Gettysburg, Governor Malibu, Lani, Seeking the Soul, Stradivari, Suddenbreakingnews and Trojan Nation.
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