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BALTIMORE – Trainer Keith Desormeaux reported that Exaggerator was “full of energy” Sunday morning in the aftermath of his rousing 3 ½-length upset over previously undefeated Nyquist in Saturday’s 141st Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
After losing all four of his previous meetings with Nyquist, including a second-place finish behind the Kentucky Derby winner (G1) at Churchill Downs two weeks earlier, Exaggerator was the recipient of a dream trip under Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux that propelled him to a decisive upset over the 3-5 favorite for Saturday’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
“The dream, honestly, is just having a horse that is consistent and has the ability to compete at this level. We do our best, honestly, to prepare and hope and make sure that we’ve done all we can to get the horse to the race in the best shape,” said Keith Desormeaux, the older brother of the jockey who launched his career in Maryland. “Goodness, the actual feeling of winning, honestly, is still sinking in. I’ve been pretty good with these things all week, but I’m at a loss for words. I’m still processing it all.”
Big Chief Racing, Head of Plains Partners and Rocker O Ranch’s Exaggerator had obstacles in his way in his past meetings with Nyquist, but the son of 2007 Preakness winner Curlin had a clear path to victory in the Preakness, in which he advanced along the inside as others in the field raced wide along the backstretch, comfortably reaching striking distance of the pacesetting Nyquist at the top of the stretch.
“When I watch the race again I want to focus on Nyquist instead of Exaggerator. I was confident at the top of the stretch when he was moving up to the leaders without being asked. Kent was still sitting like it was in morning exercise,” Keith Desormeaux said. “When he asked Exaggerator for his best, there had to be much left in the tank. Nyquist had pretty much been on the lead the whole way. At the top of the stretch, that’s a long way to go and I said, “We still have 24 seconds to go.’ At the eighth-pole, Kent made a swerve a little bit, and it looked like Nyquist might try to make an outside run but the distance never shortened all the way home.”
The Southern California-based trainer said he had second-guessed his brother’s riding strategy on the backstretch.
“I said ‘What is Kent doing?’ The rest of the field is five and six wide and Kent dove down on the rail. He made a strong move from the middle of the track right down there, and I know he’s doing that to protect Exaggerator from the throwback,” he said. “I thought, ‘Kent didn’t ride in any races yesterday and might not know that the inside may be a quagmire.’ I didn’t get to talk about that, but after he assured me, ‘What are you worrying about?’ He took the horse down there during the warm-ups and thought it was fine. What were they doing five and six wide when Kent knew it was fine down there?”
Exaggerator, who captured the Santa Anita Derby (G1) by 6 ½ lengths over a sloppy track, skipped over the sloppy track at Pimlico, where a record crowd of 135,256 attended the 14-race Preakness Day program that generated a record handle of $94,127,434.
“You know, his numbers are just as good on a dry track as they are in mud. The difference is that the other horses may not be as good,” Desormeaux said. “We run as fast on mud as we do on a dry track. Like I said before the race, ‘What we need is a fast pace, not a muddy track, and we got that.”
Although no match for Exaggerator and failing to hold off late-running Cherry Wine by a nose for second money, Nyquist held gamely in the stretch, considering that he attended the fastest first quarter of the 1 3/16-mile Preakness history while running alongside Uncle Lino past a 22.38-second first quarter.
“It was not a suicidal pace yesterday; it was solid. They’re supposed to run that fast. It was suicidal in the Santa Anita Derby, and I told people, ‘Don’t get too high on him yet,” because a lot of the product of his performance was because of a pace meltdown,” Desormeaux said. “That was not true yesterday. And it’s not about a muddy track, man; it’s about an exceptional horse.”
Exaggerator will be given time to recover from his Preakness breakthrough at Pimlico before shipping to Belmont Park for a rematch with Nyquist in the Belmont Stakes (G1) in three weeks.
“I’m thinking (next) Sunday. I’m going to be here a while. That was one of the decisions I made after the Derby. Horses are affected by a change in environment. This is their house. That 12-by-13 stall is their house, so they get comfortable. If I’m preaching about recovery, why would I take him out of the comfort of his house and move him somewhere else immediately after a tiring race?” Desormeaux said. “So he’ll be here a while. We’ll leave him here until at least Wednesday or Thursday, probably Sunday.”
Desormeaux said he was looking forward to continuing on the Triple Crown trail.
“It’s fun. This is fun, isn’t it? There’s no pressure,” he said. “There was no pressure on me yesterday. All the pressure was on Nyquist to keep the record perfect. Now that we’ve accomplished this, the pressure is even less.”
Desormeaux said there won’t be any special training schedule to prepare his colt for the 1 ½-mile Belmont.
“It’s not about fitness at this point. It can’t be. It’s about pedigree. I can’t do much more in keeping his fitness. It’s there. My job in the next three weeks is freshening him and getting him strong and happy,” he said.
“That mile-and-a-half deal, that’s more about pedigree than what I’m going to do in the morning. Another very important thing, I think, is Belmont is called Big Sandy for a reason. I think there have been some Triple Crown defeats because of some horses going in there too late. You have to get in there and train over the track and get those horses acclimated to the different surface. We’ll have plenty of time to do that. Pedigree wins the Belmont.
“I think my horse is a little more skewed toward distance, as far as pedigree is concerned. It’s Curlin. Curlin could run all day. Curlin got beat a nose in the Belmont. Curlin is known in the industry as a Classic-producing horse. And he’s out of a Vindication mare. Vindication was by Seattle Slew. It’s distance on top of distance. He should relish it, whereas Nyquist is out of a Forestry mare. Forestry is more skewed toward sprint and maxing out at a mile in most cases. Obviously, he’s proven that he can get a distance, the mile and a quarter in the Derby.”
While a rematch between Exaggerator and Nyquist in the Belmont will be played up, Desormeaux will just be happy to be at Belmont Park.
“I’m just an old country boy working in the trenches these last 30 years and now we’re competing on the highest level. My emotions are more toward gratitude and the satisfaction of getting to this level,” he said. “The rivalry or the fun, it’s there, but it doesn’t matter who is in the race. It’s the fact that we’re competing at this level.”
In addition to Exaggerator and Nyquist, the probables list for the Belmont Stakes includes Preakness runner-up Cherry Wine and his stablemate Brody’s Cause, Preakness fifth-place finisher Lani, Destin and Suddenbreakingnews.
NYQUIST – It’s on to the Belmont Stakes for Nyquist, trainer Doug O’Neill said Sunday morning, the day after the Kentucky Derby winner finished third in the Preakness. Though Nyquist no longer is undefeated, to O’Neill and his team, the colt hasn’t lost any luster.
“Even the great Secretariat got beat,” O’Neill said. “They’re not machines, as much as he would seem like a machine, being undefeated and doing everything like a super horse. He is a super horse.
“He ran his race. Exaggerator just ran an unbelievable race. And whether he moved up on that off going, I don’t know. I think Exaggerator has shown in the past, he’s just a really good horse and caught us on a day where he beat us.”
Nyquist came out of the Preakness in good order, O’Neill said.
“He looked great. He looked fantastic. Ate up well; legs ice-cold; jogging good. So I’m very happy,” he said. “And the plan at this point is to van to New York tomorrow. We’re heading to Belmont, and as long as he continues to show good energy, does well, we’ll try this again in three weeks.”
The decision to aim at the third jewel of the Triple Crown wasn’t difficult, O’Neill said. The Belmont will be run June 11 at Belmont Park.
“That was kind of the plan, to try to point to the Triple Crown, all three races, and ideally win all three,” O’Neill said. “But I thought he ran a real gutsy race yesterday, and just wanted to make sure he looked good this morning before committing to going to the Belmont. I’ll talk to (owner) Paul and Zillah (Reddam) later today. We had dinner last night, and that was the plan. As long as he looked good, we would go on.”
Ridden by Mario Gutierrez, Nyquist, who broke from the No. 3 post position in the Preakness, set a fast pace. He ran the first quarter-mile in 22.38 seconds and the half-mile in 46.56. O’Neill said that the tactics were his idea.
“I wanted him to have a good, clean trip, free-running,” he said. “And the fast pace would be blamed on me, because I just didn’t want any traffic trouble going into the first turn.”
The inside draw factored into the aggressive strategy, O’Neill said.
“If we had been outside of speed, we could have gone into the first turn maybe at a little easier pace, but I don’t think that beat us,” he said. “He ran such a bang-up race two weeks ago, and he had to really run going into the first turn. He tried hard. You could see, even going the last eighth, he was really plugging away, trying to get back to Exaggerator. He just couldn’t keep pace with him.’”
O’Neill said that he was disappointed for the horse, not himself.
“To be part of an amazing athlete like that, we are blessed,’” O’Neill said. “I was really proud of the team, too. There was not one head hanging. Everyone was just so proud of him. And like Paul always says, ‘You enjoy the journey. Don’t worry about the outcome because that’s out of our hands’”
“And I think everyone, because of Paul and Zillah, the way they lead the way, this whole journey, going to the Kentucky Derby and going to the Preakness, has just been unbelievable.”
O’Neill will be heading back to California, where he’ll start putting together a game plan for winning the Belmont with Nyquist.
“We have these Wednesday meetings, with Paul and Mario and my brother Dennis and Mario’s agent, Tom Knust,” O’Neill said. “So I’m really looking forward to Wednesday’s meeting, where we can all sit down and reminisce about the journey and (have) a learning experience, see what we learned from that, and how we can make adjustments to help Nyquist.
“We were saying last night, the motto is, ‘A new streak begins in three weeks.’ So it’s to get us motivated, as humans. I’m still very proud, but I was definitely visualizing a Triple Crown winner. That’s for sure.”
The Belmont storyline will be the rematch between Exaggerator and Nyquist. Exaggerator finished second to Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby and lost three other times to him. O’Neill and Keith Desormeaux, Exaggerator’s trainer, are friendly rivals. O’Neill said he sent Desormeaux a congratulatory text Saturday night.
“He texted me back, ‘Finally you let me have one,’” O’Neill said. “He was really cool. It’s good. If you’re going to get beat, you want to get beat by a true champion, and Exaggerator, he shows up every time. He’s had a really stern campaign, and just keeps getting better and better. So I’m looking forward to turning the tables on him in three weeks.
“We’re excited. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity, and I can’t wait to get ahead, get over there, get settled in and have him start galloping and move forward.”
CHERRY WINE – A start in the Belmont Stakes appears likely for Preakness runner-up Cherry Wine, trainer Dale Romans said Sunday morning.
A 17-1 shot, Cherry Wine, ridden by Corey Lanerie, rallied from far back and edged past Nyquist in the final strides to grab second place in the Preakness.
Cherry Wine, who is based at Churchill Downs, will be flown to Kentucky on Monday, said Romans, who is also planning to run Kentucky Derby seventh-place finisher Brody’s Cause in the Belmont.
“We’ll go back to Kentucky and evaluate,” he said. “Everything being equal, we’ll be in the Belmont. I’m coming up early. I’ll know by the end of the week if we’re going to go and start preparing. He’s fine. He bounces back. He’s a happy horse. I don’t think a mile and a half will be an issue.”
Romans expressed his satisfaction with Cherry Wine’s trip Saturday.
“I told Corey in the paddock, the only instructions I gave were, ‘Give him that Mine That Bird trip,’” said Romans, referring to Mine That Bird’s rail-skimming victory in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. “But the last thing I said was, ‘Make sure you catch the last one.’ He didn’t catch the last one. He didn’t listen.”
Lanerie finished behind another Cajun jockey, Kent Desormeaux, who was on Exaggerator.
“Desormeaux’s the best jockey in the country,” Romans said. “I’ve said it for years, when he’s on his game, he makes things happen that others can’t do. He’s just a magician on the back of a horse.”
Romans also praised the connections of Nyquist, whose undefeated status ended.
“They put it out there,” he said. “They didn’t try to hide him. They put him out with the best. They’ve kept him on course and tried to win a Triple Crown with him. My hat is off to them. They’re true sportsmen. It doesn’t diminish his reputation to lose a race. [Trainer Doug O’Neill] can keep his head held high. The stress of trying to keep one undefeated must be enormous.”
STRADIVARI – All things considered, trainer Todd Pletcher was pleased with the effort Stradivari gave in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, just his fourth lifetime start and first in stakes company.
John Gunther, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Mr. John Magnier’s Stradivari rated in mid-pack after breaking from Post 11 and raced in contention with eventual winner Exaggerator on the far turn. Carried six wide straightening for home, he remained a solid presence into mid-stretch and wound up fourth, beaten a nose and a half-length for second by Cherry Wine and Nyquist.
“We were asking a lot of him. We were doing it because we think a lot of him,” Pletcher said by phone Sunday morning. “To draw the far outside post on a sloppy track and your stakes debut being the Preakness against a lot more experienced and seasoned horses, I thought he made a very good account of himself only beaten four lengths and just missed second. Very proud of his effort. I think he’s a horse that should improve from the race and hopefully he’s got a big summer ahead of him.”
Pletcher, who captured the $150,000 Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3) with Lost Raven on Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan (G2) Day undercard, said Stradivari emerged from the race well and left Pimlico Race Course early Sunday morning on his way back to Belmont Park.
It remained unclear whether Stradivari would come back in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes, the last and longest leg of the Triple Crown June 11. He had won his previous two starts, separated by 4 ½ months, by a combined 25 ¾ lengths.
“He seemed to cool out very well and came back in good shape. We look forward to getting him back here and assessing him over the next few days to see what to do next,” Pletcher said. “I don’t want to say just yet what his next start will be. We’ve got races like the Travers in mind down the road but how we go about getting there is a little early to say. I wouldn’t rule anything out at this point but I think we’ll spend the next couple of weeks just kind of assessing how he took the race and how he trains and that’ll help clarify which direction to go.”
Pletcher already has Sam F. Davis (G3) and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Destin set to make his next start in the Belmont. Destin skipped the Preakness after finishing sixth to Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby.
“Destin worked Friday and worked well, and is on schedule for the Belmont,” he said.
LANI – Koji Maeda’s Lani headed back to New York early Sunday morning following his fifth-place finish in the Preakness. He is on course to complete the Triple Crown series in the Belmont Stakes before heading back to Japan.
KeitaTanaka, the agent for the owner, said the Tapit colt came out of the race in good shape. Lani won the U.A.E Derby in late March to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. He closed from far back to finish ninth in the Kentucky Derby. In the Preakness, he rallied in the stretch, passing five horses and finished about five lengths behind the winner, Exaggerator. Tanaka said the colt’s connections were pleased with his performance.
“They are satisfied with how he ran,” he said. “I think he will be very promising in the Belmont Stakes.”
LAOBAN – Trainer Eric Guillot said he hoped to make some history by adding his maiden Laoban to history’s distinguished list of Preakness winners, but the son of Uncle Mo split the field and finished sixth behind winner Exaggerator in Saturday’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Asked if he felt any regrets after taking on such a sizeable task with a colt who had not won a race in five career starts, Guillot was steadfast.
“I always take my shot,” Guillot said. “No regrets.”
One of four sons of Uncle Mo in the race, Laoban went off as the longest shot in the field at odds of 66-1, and Guillot said his colt was never comfortable on the sloppy track. He came out of the race “fine” and was flown back to Kentucky Sunday morning.
“We’ll take him back to Keeneland and take it easy with him and try to break his maiden,” the colorful and controversial conditioner said. “I just wish he handled the track.”
UNCLE LINO – Early Sunday morning speedy Uncle Lino flew back to California, where trainer and co-owner Gary Sherlock will determine how the tendon injury he suffered while running seventh in the Preakness will affect his career.
After setting the early fractions and pressing the pace around the second turn, Uncle Lino appeared to briefly regain the lead.
“Right there I thought we had a chance,” Sherlock said.
Uncle Lino never let Nyquist get comfortable on the lead and his speed and persistence had a significant impact on the race.
“He ran his ass off until he was injured,” Sherlock said. “At the head of the lane, I started to say, ‘C’mon. I thought he was going to go. Then you could see he was beat. I didn’t know he had an injury. He finished the race and galloped out. They stopped him on the turn coming back.”
Uncle Lino was taken off the track on a horse ambulance and sent back to his stall with what veterinarians described as minor inflammation of a tendon.
“We will evaluate him at home,” Sherlock said. “He definitely has an injury, but it’s not life threatening. He probably will need some time, but he’s not that bad. He’ll live to fight another day. ”
FELLOWSHIP – Norm Casse, assistant to his father, trainer Mark Casse, reported that Fellowship exited his eighth-place finish in Saturday’s Preakness “a little beat up.”
“He came back looking like he was in a boxing match,” Casse said. “He came back with mud all over him, mud in his eyes. He got bumped around and came back tired.”
Casse said there were no immediate plans for the Jacks or Better Farm homebred.
AWESOME SPEED – Colts Neck Stable’s Awesome Speed, who was a strong pace factor for nearly a mile of Saturday’s Preakness, left Pimlico on a van at about 5:45 a.m. Sunday for the three-hour ride back to his base in New Jersey under the direction of assistant trainer Jorge Duarte.
“He was fine, cooled out OK, but he grabbed a quarter a little bit,” trainer Alan Goldberg said of the son of Awesome Again. “I was hoping he would have hung in there a little longer, but the way the race shaped up I told (the owner) from the word ‘go’ that the flow of the race wouldn’t be good for him.”
Awesome Speed found himself fully involved in a hot early pace in which Derby winner Nyquist and Uncle Lino battled through a first quarter-mile of 22.38 seconds and a half-mile of 46.56. Awesome Speed was sitting third, only a length off the leaders in the backstretch before it took its toll and he faded to ninth in the field of 11.
“He might not have wanted to go that far with those kind of horses,” Goldberg said “We’ll give him about a week off, then we’ll start training again and think about a spot.”
ABIDING STAR – Trainer Ned Allard reported that Abiding Star exited his 11th-place finish in the Preakness in good order.
“He was dragging the hotwalker around after the race,” Allard said. “He’s a quick horse and he likes to run that way, but those horses were quicker than he was. When you can’t get to run your race, you don’t run your race. He threw in the towel.”
Allard, who saddled Always Sunshine for a victory in the Saturday’s Sagamore Spirit Maryland Sprint Stakes (G3), said he’d look for a more comfortable spot for his Preakness starter.
Pimlico Race Course
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