Grade 1 Preakness winner Exaggerator walked the shedrow Sunday morning, emerging no worse for wear following his 11th-place finish as the 7-5 favorite in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
“He's good. I walked him myself at about 6:30 this morning. He's his same, vibrant self, bright-eyed, ate up his feed last night, legs are clean,” trainer Keith Desormeaux said. “Maybe a little more subdued than he usually is, but that stands to reason. [He's] good, happy and still has that confident look in his eye, so we're good. His trainer, I don't know about him. He's still trying to shake the cobwebs but, all in all, it's a good morning.”
Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, Keith's younger brother, had Exaggerator in the clear four wide around the turn and down the backstretch from post 11 in the 13-horse field. They remained in contention through a mile and a quarter before easing off down the lane and winding up 14 lengths behind winner Creator, finishing ahead of only long shot maiden winners Seeking the Soul and Forever d'Oro.
Winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby April 9 and runner-up to then-unbeaten Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby, Exaggerator and Japanese import Lani were the only two horses to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown.
“The only thing I can settle on right now is I really don't think he liked the surface, even though Kent disagrees. Kent only has two minutes to figure things out, I have 24 hours,” Keith Desormeaux said. “What sticks out in my mind is the fact that in the [previous] three races – Derby, Preakness, Santa Anita Derby – Kent's first comment when he came back to the winner's circle was, ‘Keith he's cooled out already.' In other words, he caught his breath, he's calm, his heart rate's down. He's back, before he got back to take his saddle off.
“Yesterday he panted and gasped the air and looked a little fatigued for 45 minutes after the race. I can guarantee the races haven't had the toll on him. He struggled with the track,” he added. “He gave us his [best] to try to win and it got to him. That's what I'm settling on. I think he didn't get hold of the track as well as he needed to in order to win the race. If it's a mile and a quarter, would he have won? I don't think he was ahead at the quarter pole. It wasn't the distance. It was the fact that he struggled with the track.”
Exaggerator was trying to become the first Derby runner-up since Hall of Famer Nashua in 1955 to win the final two-thirds of the Triple Crown. Only three favorites in the last 20 years have won the Belmont, including 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.
“All in all what an experience. This is what we live for. This is what we work all our lives to get to this level,” Desormeaux said. “It still amazes me that so many people are interested in horses and their actions and their characteristics and traits. That's what I fell in love with as a kid, so it's so cool that so many people are interested as well. I hope we didn't disappoint them. He's a good horse. Everybody wants to be like American Pharoah but that's not the way it is. I hate that he disappointed as the favorite, that's always hurtful, but the horse will be back for more. It's cool to see so much interest in what the mainstream media describes as a dying sport. It seems alive and well to me.”
Looking ahead, Exaggerator will remain at Belmont Park through the end of the spring-summer meet before shipping to Saratoga Race Course with eyes on the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy July 30 and Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers August 27.
“It seems like a good plan,” he said. “We'll go with that and if we have to adjust, we will.”
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