Exaggerator winning the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico
PICTURE: Jessie Holmes/EquiSport
By Nicholas Godfrey 7:30aM 11 JUN 2016
Preview: USA, Saturday 11.37pm BST (live on ATR)
Belmont Park: Belmont Stakes (Grade 1) 1m4f, dirt, 3yo
THREE weeks after ending the Triple Crown hopes of Nyquist when finally getting the better of his arch-rival in the Preakness Stakes, Exaggerator (Keith Desormeaux/Kent Desormeaux) is sure to start a warm favourite to claim his second Classic in tonight’s Belmont Stakes, the $ 1.5 million highlight of a spectacular card at the New York venue.
With six Grade 1s altogether among nine a total of nine Graded stakes – and four races worth at least $ 1m – the Belmont card is the richest in the States outside the Breeders’ Cup.
Top-class double-figure fields are no rarity – including in the main event, where Exaggerator must overcome a double-figure draw that has left Keith Desormeaux feeling slightly wary.
“If I had a speed horse, I’d be worried,” said the trainer. “But Exaggerator breaks, drops the bit and relaxes so he should have plenty of opportunity to drop in closer to the rail. It’s not the mile and a half; of course that comes into play, too. It’s the close run-up to the turn. The more experienced, the more tactical hands you can have has got to be for the better, and I think I’ve got a pretty good jockey.”
That jockey is the trainer’s younger brother, the veteran Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux, who has had an unusual preparation for tonight’s assignment by spending time in rehab dealing with long-term alcohol issues. To say the former US champion has a testy relationship with his brother appears an understatement, and family concerns may well have been involved in Kent’s week-long stint in a Utah rehab programme.
Now, though, Kent Desormeaux cannot wait to get on with the show. “I’m truly very excited for Exaggerator, more thrilled that I’m here with my brother Keith,” said the jockey, who is 46. “I just hope the story continues and we write another chapter.”
Four times Exaggerator had met Nyquist before the Preakness, and four times he had been beaten. The fifth time was different, however, as the son of Curlin raced closer to the pace than usual before easing clear in the stretch for a comfortable victory in the sloppy conditions he so relishes.
While there is a possibility of thunderstorms tonight for the 1m4f contest – regarded as a marathon in US dirt terms – there is no possibility of Nyquist, who misses the race after spiking a fever soon after the Preakness.
As a result, Exaggerator will start a heavy favourite. “It’s a little different than usually us coming through the back door, but I’ve always said I’d much rather have the favorite than be 20-1,” Desormeaux said. “When you’re 4-5 in your hopes of taking down a $ 1.5m race, I’d much prefer that. It’s not so bad.
“Regardless of what I think, it’s obvious that you couldn’t get him any better than he is now,” the trainer added. “He’s very sound, he’s very fresh. He seems very confident and he should be sitting on a huge race.”
Tactics are always a talking point for the Belmont, where the distance of the race is a step too far for the vast majority of US-bred dirt performers. Exaggerator is an habitual closer, often racing from well off the pace before making lots of ground in the final stages – tactics which benefit from a hot pace up front, the scenario in play at the Preakness.
Front-running Gettysburg joined the party this week, presumably as a hedge against a really slow pace; he is owned by WinStar Farms, who – as well as having Arkansas Derby winner Creator in the field, also own breeding rights to Exaggerator.
Exaggerator’s rivals feature a number of familiar faces from the Kentucky Derby, where he was ahead of Suddenbreakingnews (fifth), Destin (sixth), Brody’s Cause (seventh), Lani (ninth), Creator (13th) and Trojan Nation (16th). Preakness runner-up Cherry Wine and fourth-placed Stradivari also try their luck again.
Before partnering A Shin Hikari at Royal Ascot, Yutaka Take rides UAE Derby winner Lani (Mikio Matsunaga), whose cause may be aided by the extra distance.
Also on Saturday
Belmont Park: Acorn Stakes (Grade 1) 1m, dirt, 3yo fillies (5.39pm BST, live on ATR)
Attempting to take her career record to six from seven, Cathryn Sophia (John Servis/Javier Castellano) returns five weeks after her brilliant Kentucky Oaks success.
Main opposition comes from Black-Eyed Susan victress Go Maggie Go (Dale Romans/Luis Saez), who met trouble in running when only fourth at Churchill Downs, and Carina Mia (Bill Mott/Julien Leparoux), a six-length Grade 2 winner on the Kentucky Oaks undercard.
Belmont Park: Ogden Phipps Stakes (Grade 1) 1m1/2f, dirt, 4yo+ (6.52pm BST, live on ATR)
With a hugely talented field, in some respects this $ 1m event could be regarded as the best race of the night with five of the seven already Grade 1 winners.
Indeed, Curalina (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez), Stopchargingmaria (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) and Sheer Drama (David Fawkes/Joe Bravo) have all won three Grade 1s.
Curalina looked to have stepped up a gear as a four-year-old with a totally dominant 71/2-length score in the La Troienne on Kentucky Oaks day, where Sheer Drama was punch drunk in third. stablemate Stopchargingmaria put both in their places in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff and may well reverse her neck defeat by Sheer Drama over an inadequate 7f on her seasonal debut.
Fellow Grade 1 winner Cavorting (Kiaran McLaughlin/Florent Geroux) was impressive last time in the Ruffian over 1m and now stretches out again. Forever Unbridled (Dallas Stewart/Joel Rosario) is on a four-timer after taking the Apple Blossom.