© Benoit Photo
Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Exaggerator has faced Nyquist on four occasions and has lost to his rival each time, most recently when finishing second in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. Trainer Keith Desormeaux is hoping that the fifth time will be the charm when Exaggerator faces Nyquist on Saturday in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico, but realizes that the task will be difficult.
“Obviously numbers-wise, horse for horse-wise, it’s tough to think we can beat him, right?” Desormeaux was quoted as saying in a Preakness press release. “But the strongest attribute Exaggerator has is his ability to recover. As you know, this Preakness is run back in two weeks. That’s not normal in this day and age to run a horse back that quickly.
“Nyquist, I think the goal was to keep him fresh by only running him twice this year (before the Derby), but maybe that will backfire. Exaggerator has much more racing experience (10 races to eight), therefore fitness and the attribute of recovering quickly.”
Exaggerator at Pimlico on May 17th – Video courtesy of the Maryland Jockey Club
But does Exaggerator know how many times he has lost to Nyquist? “If (Exaggerator) knows anything about Nyquist, it’s the rear view,” said Desormeaux. “But as far as forgetting or knowing each other, some people say they size each other up in the paddock and maybe warming up. If that’s the case, then I can tell you from a horsemen’s perspective that Exaggerator does not have one nervous bone in his body about looking Nyquist in the eye.
“There are some horses that get nervous. If you watch the Derby paddock scene, Whitmore, Lani and a few others just lost their crackers, sweating up and freezing up. I told my owner (Matt Bryan) leaving the paddock in Kentucky, ‘Matt, what you see here you can’t teach. Your horse has class to the bone.’ And we can’t get him any better.
“The bad news is that Nyquist is just as cool and calm. Those are two very classy horses, and they’re not fearful of each other at all.”
In recent races, Exaggerator has employed a late-running style where he closes from far off the pace, but according to Desormeaux, Exaggerator could potentially race close to the lead in the Preakness. “This horse won the Saratoga Special at 6 1/2 (furlongs), sitting a length and a half off the lead turning for home. He’s got all the speed you want. He broke his maiden going five-eighths. It’s pretty cool that a horse going that fast is also that smart. He can control his speed. That’s my job, as a trainer, to teach him to relax, teach him to respect the rider’s commands. And the fact that Exaggerator does that shows his class.
“Now I don’t care if he’s five lengths off or 15 lengths off, as long as he’s comfortable. That’s the jockey’s department, not mine. My job is to teach him to relax; Kent’s job is to judge pace. Where he sits in the race is not a concern to me as long as he’s comfortable. Comfortable usually means clipping off eighths (of a mile) in 12, 12-and-1 (seconds). That’s all we need. If you add that up, that adds up to a mile and a quarter in two minutes flat. If he accomplishes that he’ll win all the races, including the Preakness.”
Regarding Exaggerator’s Tuesday morning training session, during which the colt galloped 1 1/2 miles, Desormeaux said “I thought he floated over the track, and looks like he adapted to the surface real well. That’s about his normal speed, so I wouldn’t consider it aggressive. It was a typical gallop for him, but it was very nice.”
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