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Hard to look past Exaggerator in Belmont Stakes

Entering the Preakness Stakes, the only 3-year-old with any prayer to beat Nyquist appeared to be Exaggerator. He seemed to really relish a wet track and there's no doubt that a sloppy track played a factor in the Preakness, but the true key to the race was Exaggerator's consistency. Regardless of venue or track condition or distance, Exaggerator always runs his race and he delivered as usual at Pimlico in the second jewel of the Triple Crown. With Nyquist out of the Belmont Stakes with a fever, Exaggerator appears to be as close to a lock in the Belmont Stakes as you'll find in racing. Let's explore his chances.

Ability: Since a fifth-place finish his debut, Exaggerator has either won or finished within three lengths of the winners in 10 subsequent races. His only off-the-board finish in those 10 starts was a fourth behind Nyquist in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He subsequently won the $1-million Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes, earning a then career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure in his final start at two. He finished second in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes and third in the Grade 2 San Felipe before his runaway win in on a sloppy track in the Santa Anita Derby. With his second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness victory, Exaggerator positioned himself as the only 3-year-old within striking distance of Nyquist in the race for the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male. In the six races since the Breeders' Cup, Exaggerator has recorded an Equibase Speed Figure between a 103 and a 107 in each race, topped by the 107 he earned in the Preakness. His last three Beyer Speed Figures are: 103, 101 and 101. It's tough to knock a racehorse who always brings his "A" game.

Running style: Aside from a front-running win in the Delta Jackpot, Exaggerator's preferred running style is coming from off the pace with one powerful, sustained rally. He was 15th early in the Kentucky Derby and eighth in the Preakness, both times behind a hot pace. But he's no plodder. He had enough speed to track just a length behind a :44.49 half-mile in the seven-furlong San Vicente when finishing second to Nyquist. If the pace is slower in the Belmont Stakes, a very likely scenario, Exaggerator could lay a little bit closer so he has less ground to make up in the stretch.

Connections: Exaggerator's trainer, Keith Desormeaux, served as an assistant to Charlie Hadry for a couple of years after graduating from Louisiana Tech. He took out his license in 1988, and Desormeaux said his career took off after moving from California to Lone Star Park in 1997. He calls himself a "blue-collar trainer."

Desormeaux earned his first career graded stakes win in 2013 when Ive Stuck a Nerve won the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes, and in 2014 he trained the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Texas Red. Desormeaux earned his first victory in a U.S. classic race with Exaggerator in the Preakness.

Keith Desormeaux's brother, Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, is the regular rider of Exaggerator. With more than 5,700 career wins and three Eclipse Awards -- outstanding apprentice in 1987 and outstanding jockey in 1989 and 1992 -- Desormeaux is a proven, big-money rider who ranks 19th all time by victories among U.S.-based jockeys and fifth all time in purse earnings with more than $265.4-million. He earned his seventh victory in a Triple Crown in the 2016 Preakness. Kent Desormeaux also guided Big Brown (2008) and Real Quiet (1998) to wins in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He won the Kentucky Derby in 2000 with Fusaichi Pegasus and the Belmont Stakes in 2009 with Summer Bird. He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2004.

Big Chief Racing is the racing stable of Matthew Bryan, who first became involved in racehorse ownership through the Don't Tell Your Wife Stable syndicate. A Texan, Bryan met Keith Desormeaux in 2012 at a Texas sale and their first auction purchase together was the aforementioned Ive Struck a Nerve. Big Chief Racing also campaigns graded stakes winner Crucero and 2015 Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Swipe.

After the Breeders' Cup, Bryan sold interests in Exaggerator to several other partners including Sol Kumin's Head of Plains Stable and Ronny Ortowski's Rocker O Ranch.

Pedigree: Exaggerator is from the fourth crop of two-time Horse of the Year (2007, 2008) Curlin and is one of 10 graded stakes winners and the second U.S. classic winner for the 2007 Preakness victor. Prior to 2016, Curlin had demonstrated the ability to sire elite talent in the breeding shed with 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, 2015 Travers Stakes winner and Belmont Stakes third-place finisher Keen Ice and Grade 1 winners Curalina and Stellar Wind among his early standouts. Exaggerator confirmed Curlin's immense potential at stud, and the class and stamina he inherits from Curlin should go a long way in the Belmont Stakes.

Exaggerator's dam (mother), Dawn Raid, and grandam (maternal grandmother), Embur Sunshine, both placed in stakes races. Dawn Raid set a track record for 5 ½ furlongs sprinting at Woodbine and Embur Sunshine finished second in a pair of stakes at Monmouth Park, both at 5 furlongs. Neither won a race longer than 5-1/2 furlongs, however, so that could be a minor concern for the 1-1/2-mile "Test of the Champion."

Dawn Raid is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to Canadian champion Embur's Song and Grade 3-placed stakes winner Ten Flat. Embur's Song was a multiple graded stakes winner at 1-1/16 miles and Ten Flat was purely a sprinter. Other notable members of this family include Canadian champion Eternal Search, Canadian classic winner Niigon and Grade 1 winner Island Sand.

The abundance of speed from Exaggerator's family makes me just a touch cautious about his chances to win his second classic in the Belmont. There is a chance that he could run out of fuel in the final eighth of a mile in his third race in five weeks, but having two-time Horse of the Year Curlin as his sire greatly helps Exaggerator's cause. Plus, you have to admire his determination and consistency. Exaggerator should be tough to beat as an overwhelming favorite on June 11 at Belmont.

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