ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — Exaggerator finally confirmed the belief trainer Keith Desormeaux had all along in his 3-year-old colt.
Making an impressive move on a sloppy track in taking the lead in the upper stretch, Exaggerator won the $1 million Santa Anita Derby by 6 1/4 lengths Saturday, beating 7-5 favorite Mor Spirit in their final showdown before the Kentucky Derby next month.
“For me, this is like a dream,” Desormeaux said. “The (Kentucky) Derby is what everybody in this business dreams of.”
Desormeaux has his younger brother, Kent, along for the ride. Kent piloted Exaggerator over 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.66 after they were next-to-last early on in the eight-horse field.
“I don’t think it has soaked in yet, I’m pretty much in shock,” Kent Desormeaux said. “He was the fourth horse that I rode in the mud and the others felt like they had ice skates on. Exaggerator felt like he had track shoes on. He really liked the going and that was part of his incredible effort. He enjoyed the mud.”
Exaggerator paid $8.80, $3.60 and $2.80 at 3-1 odds.
Trained by Bob Baffert, Mor Spirit returned $2.80 and $2.40. Uncle Lino was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third and paid $5 to show.
“We got hit by the first wave of water and mud going into the first turn,” Gary Stevens said of Mor Spirit. “He slipped with me and started lunging.”
Danzing Candy, who had led going into the clubhouse turn, finished fourth as the 8-5 second choice under Mike Smith.
“I felt like I was on roller skates out there,” Smith said. “He just didn’t grab hold of it the way we hoped.”
Exaggerator made a similar bold move on the far turn in the San Felipe on March 12, only to finish third by 2 3/4 lengths to winner Danzing Candy and runner-up Mor Spirit. Keith Desormeaux wasn’t sure why his colt was unable to finish.
“We had a good pace in the San Felipe, but not a really fast pace,” he said. “Today we had a great pace scenario and he took full advantage.”
Exaggerator earned 100 points to move into third place in qualifying for the May 7 Derby. Mor Spirit earned 40 points and is in seventh place. Uncle Lino received 20 points, but is in 22nd place and not currently in the Derby field, which has a 20-horse limit. Danzing Candy earned 10 points and is ninth.
Exaggerator swerved coming away from the starting gate while Danzing Candy sped to the lead. Exaggerator entered the stretch three-wide and circled the field in taking the lead before drifting to the inside, where Desormeaux went to a left-handed whip in drawing clear.
“He was ultra-confident,” Kent Desormeaux said. “He’s so mature and he walked to the gate like an old pony.”
It was Kent Desormeaux’s second career Derby win, and first since Free House in 1997. His brother won the race for the first time.
Diplodocus was fifth, followed by Denman’s Call, Smokey Image and Iron Rob. Rare Candy and Dressed in Hermes were scratched.
Heavy rain fell early in the day, with fog mostly obscuring the San Gabriel Mountains, creating just the fifth off-track in the race’s 79-year history and the first since Point Given also won in the slop in 2001. The weather affected attendance, with 27,821 on hand.
Earlier in the day, Keith Desormeaux scratched Texas Red, who was set to make his 4-year-old debut on turf in the Thunder Road Stakes. The colt hasn’t raced since finishing fifth in the Travers Stakes last summer. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2014, but got injured and was unable to run in last year’s Triple Crown races.
“I’m just going to pray that unlike Texas Red we make it there,” Kent Desormeaux said.
In other stakes:
— Songbird improved to 7-0 in her career with a 3 3/4-length victory in the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks for 3-year-old fillies. Ridden by Mike Smith, Songbird ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.14 and paid $2.20 to win as the overwhelming 1-9 favorite. A whopping $751,734 was bet to show on Songbird, triggering a minus show pool of $138,844, that was lost by national wagering entities. Smith’s red-and-white silks didn’t have a drop of mud on them with Songbird leading all the way in the Grade 1 race. Mokat was second and She’s a Warrior third.
Songbird is headed to next month’s $1 million Kentucky Oaks.
“If it doesn’t make an owner smile the way she’s been running, maybe you should try another business,” owner Rick Porter said. “It’s so fun to watch.”
— Tough It Out won the $200,000 Echo Eddie Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths under Joe Talamo. The 3-year-old gelding ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.60 and paid $12.20 to win.
— Pacific Heat won the $200,000 Evening Jewel Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths under Flavien Prat. The 3-year-old filly ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.38 and paid $4.40 to win as the 6-5 favorite.
— Decked Out won the $150,000 Providencia Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths for the Desormeaux brothers. Decked Out ran 1 1/8 miles on a turf course listed as good in 1:52.72 and paid $8.60 to win the Grade 3 race.
— Kent Desormeaux won his third stakes on the card with What a View, who won the $100,000 Thunder Road by a length. Trained by Kenneth Black, the 5-year-old dark bay ran a mile on turf in 1:39.01 and paid $3.80 to win as the 4-5 favorite in the Grade 3 race.
Sunday is closing day at Santa Anita, as the track’s 63-day Winter Meet, which began on Dec. 26, draws to a conclusion with an 11-race program. First post time on Sunday is at 12:30 p.m. and admission gates open at 10:30 a.m.
KENT DESORMEAUX, EXAGGERATOR, WINNER: “Well, if he shows up the first Saturday in May like he did today . . . he was ultra-confident today. He’s so mature and he walked to the gate like an old pony. He left there quiet and comfortable and I think that’s the difference, when a horse lets you drive and they’re not man-handling themselves. He reminded me of Texas Red.
“He’s that caliber of horse and it’s extra special to be with Keith, and we don’t even talk too much, it’s all quite understood. All he said in the paddock was, ‘Kent, I’m telling you that I’ve never seen this horse so confident.’ When I galloped off once I was on the track, he took to the track like a duck to water. He never missed a beat and he showed it winning today.
“I don’t think it has soaked in yet, I’m pretty much in shock. I’m just going to pray that unlike Texas Red, we make it there.
“He was the fourth horse that I rode in the mud today and the others felt like they had ice skates on. Exaggerator felt like he had track shoes on. He really liked the going and I think that was part of his incredible effort today. He enjoyed the mud.
“I don’t know (if he can beat Nyquist); we’ll find out Derby Day. I heard two people say that Nyquist couldn’t handle Mohaymen. When I tried to run with him in the San Vicente and he went twenty-two and change I thought I was going to go by him like he was tied to a pole but he wouldn’t let me by. That is a very good horse.”
GARY STEVENS, MOR SPIRIT, SECOND: “He warmed up great and left the gate wrong, and we got hit by the first wave of water and mud going into the first turn, he slipped with me and started lunging. He came off the bridle, and the first thing I said was, ‘This is going to be a long race.’ When Kent came by me, he actually tried to go with him – he sort of re-ignited again, but he sort of just looked after himself. I’m real proud of him to run second.”
MIKE SMITH, DANZING CANDY, FOURTH: ”Well he [Exaggerator] was quite a bit quicker than we hoped, of course, but we kind of thought that would happen today. I was hoping he’d really take to the mud, to be honest with you, as long as I had him up underneath me he was okay but as soon as I had to let up and run along I felt like I was on roller skates out there. He just didn’t grab quite a hold of it the way we hoped.”
KEITH DESORMEAUX, EXAGGERATOR, WINNER: “Did I have any doubts as they were going up to the gate? No doubt, I had doubts! We had a good pace to run at in the San Felipe, but not a really fast pace. Today, we had a great pace scenario and he took full advantage. For me, this is like a dream. I mean, the (Kentucky) Derby is what everybody in this business dreams of. I think we’ll probably come in (to Churchill Downs) right on top of the race, maybe ship in on Monday or Tuesday.”
WHEN ASKED ABOUT THE ADDED DISTANCE OF THE KENTUCKY DERBY: “Yes, the way he finished today and the way he galloped out…If we get a fast pace, and we should, yes, I don’t think there’s any problem with it.”
WHEN ASKED ABOUT THE FAMILY DYNAMIC OF HAVING HIS BROTHER RIDE FOR HIM: “I would say we have a very frank relationship. If I feel a certain way about something, I don’t hold anything back, and the same for him. I’m not sure I’d talk to a Mike Smith the way I talk to Kent. We’re just very upfront about everything and express ourselves fully.”
WHEN ASKED IF HE THOUGHT EXAGGERATOR CAN BEAT NYQUIST NEXT TIME: “We haven’t been able to beat him, what five (actually three) times? I don’t know if we can or not.”
RONNY ORTOWSKI, PART OWNER, EXAGGERATOR, WINNER: “Kent just rode him perfect. It was a real good race. He’s a mud horse, and I had all the confidence in the world. He was feeling good this morning.”
GARY SHERLOCK, UNCLO LINO, THIRD: “The track didn’t make him run any better but I wasn’t worried about it. The biggest thing was to let him run. He ran perfect, that’s what we had in mind. The only thing that fooled me was that Iron Rob didn’t send! Uncle Lino made the lead and just got run down by two pretty good horses, that’s about it.
“My next move? I have no idea.”
NOTES: The winning owners are Matt Bryan (Big Chief Racing) of Ft. Worth; Head of Plains Partners; Rocker O Ranch, and Keith Desormeaux of Maurice, La.
Source: Santa Anita Park