Exaggerator Can Make History in the Belmont Stakes

Exaggerator arriving at belmont park - NYRA

This year there won’t be a Triple Crown bid at Belmont Park.  That statement tends to sour the mood of the Belmont Stakes.  After all we have become spoiled as the last two years we’ve seen a horse try for the Triple Crown, and we’ve also seen it seven of the last fourteen years.  Only the promise of free bets could get us as fired up for this years Belmont Stakes as we were for last years!  Of course last year not only did we see a horse try for it…we saw one WIN IT as American Pharoah become the 12th Triple Crown winner in racing history.  Certainly the chance of racing immortality cannot be matched, but there is still a chance at history when the gates open this Saturday at Big Sandy.  Exaggerator can accomplish something that has not been done since 2005 if he can win this weekend.

The last time a horse did not win the Kentucky Derby, but then went on to win the last two legs of the Triple Crown was Afleet Alex.  After a great 2 year old season Afleet Alex oddly enough started out his three year old season just like Exaggerator in a sprint stakes.  After winning that race, he once again just like Exaggerator lost his first Kentucky Derby prep race as a three year old in the Rebel Stakes, but then went on to win his final prep race (again like Exaggerator) in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.  A just average trip and a bit of a flat performance lead to Alfeet Alex finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, but he won the Preakness Stakes after nearly falling down on the turn and then completely dominated the Belmont Stakes.  Unfortuanly for him that was his last ever race as he was injured and retired.

The feat of winning the Preakness and Belmont Stakes after not winning the Kentucky Derby is not something that happens often.  In fact since 1875, which was the first year of the Triple Crown, its only happened 18 times.  Here are the previous horses:

1877 – Cloverbrorok
1878 – Duke of Magenta
1880 – Grenada
1881 – Saunterer
1895 – Belmar
1920 – Man o’ War
1922 – Pillroy
1940 – Bimelech
1949 – Capot
1953 – Native Dancer
1955 – Nashua
1967 – Damascus
1974 – Little Current
1988 – Risen Star
1991 – Hansel
1994 – Tobacco Cat
2001 – Point Given
2005 – Afleet Alex

If you take out the 1800’s and look more at the modern era you can see this feat has only been accomplished 13 times since 1920.  Since 1919 the Triple Crown has been won 12 times in comparison…so while its nowhere near the same in importance it still is something that is hard to do and does not happen often.

In 2005 even though the Belmont Stakes was Afleet Alex’s last race he still went on to win the Eclipse Award for Three Year Old Horse of the Year.  That leads to the big debate in front of us leading into the summer…If Exaggerator wins the Belmont Stakes is he the leading three year old horse in the country?  Many will point to the 4-1 advantage Nyquist has over Exaggerator, but I urge people to remember that it’s actually only a 2-1 advantage when talking about their 3 year old seasons.  Does winning two legs of the Triple Crown help ease the fact that Nyquist is ahead in the head to head battle?  Perhaps…but one thing I do know for sure is that unlike Afleet Alex; Exaggerator will have work to do this summer and fall even if he wins the Belmont Stakes.  Another head to head win over Nyquist will probably be a must, and if he were to lose a head to head meeting it would be devastating to his chances.

One big factor the might be helping Exaggerator become Three Year Old Horse of the Year if he wins the Belmont Stakes is history.  Of the 18 horses that won the last two legs of the Triple Crown without winning the Kentucky Derby 13 of them have went on to become the top horse in the crop.  An even more staggering stat…12 of the last 13 horse that have done it have went on to win the award for top three year old!  History was not on Exaggerator’s side in the Preakness Stakes, but with a win at Belmont Park it certainly could be this time around.

Of course the major question of the present time for this week is obviously can Exaggerator win the Belmont Stakes?  Usually the angle of the “fresh horse” can prove deadly in this race.  The three main horses that come to mind with this angle are Suddenbreakingnews, Destin, and Creator.  All three ran in the Kentucky Derby, but skipped the Preakness and headed straight to the Belmont Stakes.  Suddenbreakingnews seems to be the wise guy horse as he was flying late in the Kentucky Derby after an eventful trip.  Creator certainly wasn’t flying late in Kentucky…but “eventful” doesn’t even begin to describe his Derby troubles.  Then there is Destin who could have a major pace advantage in a race that is devoid of early speed as of now.

All of those horses will be primed for an upset, as well as a few other sneaky horses as the big day approaches.  We definitely know Exaggerator is the most talented horse in the race, but has the Triple Crown series taken it’s toll on this horse?  He seems to be feeling fine leading up to the race, and you can’t deny the level at which he has improved in his last three races.  A win at Belmont would mean everything to this horse, and if he’s fresh enough he should be able to get the job done.  With no Triple Crown on the line this year history could still be made.  The Belmont Stakes truly is the test of champions.

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