Exaggerator carries Desormeaux brothers to Kentucky Derby

ARCADIA, Calif. -- The winner's circle photos had all been taken, everyone was about to walk away, when jockey Kent Desormeaux yelled to the track photographer to take one more.

Holding the Santa Anita Derby trophy, he called over his brother, Keith, and together, with each holding one arm of the trophy, they lifted it aloft.

If this was something they had dreamed of while running around as kids in Maurice, La., it had now come true in the gloaming of a rainy April day at Santa Anita.

They had won the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby, and were headed, together, to the Kentucky Derby.

"It's extra special to be with Keith," Kent said.

The 3-year-old colt who will take them to Louisville is Exaggerator, who splashed through the sloppy, sealed going to a 6-1/4-length victory on Saturday in the West's final major prep for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. The victory atoned for a third-place finish last month in the San Felipe, in which Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit beat him.

Mor Spirit finished second on Saturday, 2 1/4 lengths in front of third-place Uncle Lino. Danzing Candy, who set a sharp early pace, tired from his efforts and wound up fourth, beaten more than 13 lengths.

Diplodocus was fifth and was followed, in order, by Denman's Call, Smokey Image, and Iron Rob.

Exaggerator earned 100 points, Mor Spirit 40, from the 170 on offer for this race. Both will head to Louisville.

Exaggerator ($8.80), the third choice, completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.66. He has now won 4 of 9 starts, with four of those losses coming in races where he faced Nyquist, the unbeaten, current favorite for the Derby.

Asked what gave him confidence he could beat Nyquist in four weeks, Keith was honest.

"Nothing," he said. "We've tried him [four] times. I respect Nyquist. We'll have fun trying."

Nyquist was not in this race, having run one week earlier in the Florida Derby. Ten were entered in the Santa Anita Derby, and the field was reduced to eight when Dressed in Hermes and Rare Candy were scratched.

Danzing Candy, the second choice at 8-5, flew out of the gate and set a brisk pace of 22.15 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 45.24 for a half-mile, with Uncle Lino in closest attendance. Mor Spirit, the 7-5 favorite, was fourth early, as Exaggerator dropped well back. Midway through the race, he was seventh.

As the field went around the far turn, Uncle Lino put more pressure on Danzing Candy, and eventually wrested the lead from him. Mor Spirit kept grinding away. But Exaggerator, as he did in the San Felipe, turned in a furious rally. Last time, he flattened out and wound up third. This time, he kept on motoring. He roared past Uncle Lino and bounded clear. Mor Spirit kept to his task and reeled in Uncle Lino for second.

"It's easy to say I was full of confidence, but I had doubts. He had a quick middle quarter, but not enough to explain how he finished," Keith said of the San Felipe. "The only way to rectify that was to do what he did today.

"He was on point today," Keith said.

Both Keith and Kent Desormeaux said the one thing they were convinced to do was again have Exaggerator drop back and make one run.

"Thank God we didn't change tactics," Keith said.

Exaggerator, a son of Curlin, is owned by a partnership that includes Matt Bryan's Big Chief Racing, the Head of Plains Partners run by Sol Kumin, and Ron Ortowski, a long-time friend of Bryan's.

Exaggerator has now won two million-dollar races, having captured the Delta Jackpot last year. He also won the Saratoga Special last year, and finished second in the Breeders' Futurity and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

This year, he was second in the seven-furlong San Vicente to Nyquist before finishing third in the San Felipe.

Keith was impressed with Exaggerator's pre-race demeanor. He saddled well, went through the post parade professionally, and never got warm. Sure, it was a chilly, rainy day, but the conditions did not cause Exaggerator to show any stress before the race.

"Now the question is can he relax in front of 150,000 screaming Kentuckians and a nervous trainer," Keith said.

Keith never has won the Kentucky Derby. Kent has won three.

"It's old hat for Kent. "For me, it's surreal," Keith said.