As the 3-1 morning-line favorite for the Grade 1, $ 1.25 million Travers presented by NYRA Bets, Exaggerator’s affinity for a wet racetrack has been one of the more prevalent narratives of the Saratoga meet this summer as the multiple graded stakes winner looks to shore up his supremacy in the 3-year-old division in the “Mid-Summer Derby,” expected to be contested over a fast track Saturday afternoon.
Indeed, the Curlin colt has posted his three Grade 1 victories – the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, and Haskell – all on off-going and is 4-for-4 overall on sealed tracks, plus a runner-up finish in a muddy rendering of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity last fall. Even his second in the Kentucky Derby came on a track that, although listed as “fast,” had gotten a little extra moisture just before the race, courtesy of a quick-moving summer storm that swept through the area.
Trainer Keith Desormeaux, however, remained firm in his opinion on Friday morning that track conditions have been merely circumstantial to his colt’s success and is relishing the opportunity to dispel the notion that his horse is merely a wet-track specialist once and for all this weekend.
“I’ve said it before, it’s not the off track [he needs], it’s the pace, a pace to run at. There should be pace with a [13-horse] field,” said Desormeaux, who arrived in Saratoga on Thursday afternoon.
Asked if Exaggerator’s off-track reputation bothers him, Desormeaux offered a wry, “Yeah, it bothers me all the way to the bank.”
Exaggerator has bankrolled $ 3,571,120.
Attempting to become the ninth Preakness winner and the sixth Haskell winner to go on to victory in the Travers, Exaggerator has remained in top form at his Saratoga training base primarily under the care of assistant trainer Julie Clark.
“I can only read what I see in front of me and I see a maturing horse,” said a confident Desormeaux. “He’s carried his weight well, his coat color is great, he still has that exuberance to train, he’s got a gleam in his eye, good appetite – all those things that we as horsemen look for in judging the readiness of our horse.”
With the field down to 13 following the recent defection of Florida Derby runner-up Majesto, this year’s Travers remains on track to be one of the largest fields in the Travers history, matching the number of starters in 1965 and 1990 as the second-largest field after the 1977 edition, which saw a record 14 go to post.
“That says to me that there’s no one there that other horsemen think is dominant; you’re going to stay away when there’s dominant horses,” Desormeaux said of the field size. “According to the field, maybe they think we’re all on the same playing field. But Exaggerator doesn’t have anything to prove; he’s a dominant horse and, again, it’ll be fun to prove his dominance on a dry track.”
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