01/05/2017 6:26PM

2016 Eclipse Awards: Exaggerator

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Exaggerator was the only 3-year-old male to win three Grade 1 races in 2016, the highlights of an ambitious campaign that saw him perform in the best races of the division until his retirement in October.

Exaggerator ran nine times in eight months while traveling across the country. He won the Santa Anita Derby in California in April, the Preakness in Maryland in May, and the betfair.com Haskell in New Jersey in July. Those latter two wins came against Nyquist – a fellow finalist – who had beaten Exaggerator twice earlier in the year, including the Kentucky Derby, in which Exaggerator finished second.

A son of Curlin out of the Vindication mare Dawn Raid, Exaggerator was purchased as a yearling for $110,000 at the Keeneland September sale by trainer Keith Desormeaux for Matt Bryan’s Big Chief Racing. Bryan later took on partners, first the Rocker O Ranch of Ron Ortowski, and then the Head of Plains Partners run by Sol Kumin.

After his win in the Santa Anita Derby and before his start in the Kentucky Derby, WinStar Farm acquired the breeding rights to Exaggerator.

:: Eclipse Awards: 2016 finalists with profiles

Exaggerator ran six times at age 2 and was set for his 3-year-old debut in February. He ran into Nyquist and finished second in the San Vicente. He then went back around two turns and disappointed a bit when finishing third in the San Felipe, but rebounded with a powerful closing kick to win the Santa Anita Derby in a romp.

The Desormeaux brothers, Keith and his Hall of Fame jockey brother, Kent, were going to the Kentucky Derby.

“It’s extra special to be with Keith,” Kent said.

Exaggerator ran a terrific race at Churchill Downs, but had to settle for second again to Nyquist. But he was a dominant victor in the Preakness, finally besting Nyquist.

“I had an absolute dream ride,” Kent Desormeaux said. “I was able to inch forward and gain on the leaders slowly and quietly. From the three-eighths to the quarter I was slowing him down, waiting. He felt like King Kong. When I pitched him out, he exploded.”

It was the first Triple Crown race win for Keith Desormeaux.

“This is the only time when we’re part of the mainstream media,” Keith Desormeaux said. “It’s an American classic for a reason. To finally get to win one, it’s kind of hard to describe. What I’m feeling now is awesome confirmation of a lifetime of dedicating myself to finding and getting the best out of a horse.”

Exaggerator then moved on to the Belmont Stakes, becoming one of just two horses to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown in 2016, but he never fired, finishing 11th as the favorite.

Keith Desormeaux left Exaggerator in New York, owing to the big races for 3-year-olds being in the East in the summer and fall. In concert with his assistant and girlfriend, Julie Clark, they decided to go to the Haskell rather than run in the Jim Dandy and it paid off, with Exaggerator rallying for the win and evening his head-to-head races with Nyquist in 2016 at two apiece.

Exaggerator did not perform to expectations in either the Travers, in which – mirroring the Belmont – he finished 11th as the favorite, and then the Pennsylvania Derby, in which he finished seventh.

Less than a month later, he was retired, having raced 15 times in 16 months. That campaign is “a testament to his ability, consistency, fortitude, and class,” said Elliott Walden, WinStar’s president and chief executive officer. “He is an extreme racehorse – a tough, durable throwback to the old days, like his sire Curlin.”

Exaggerator is currently at WinStar Farm in Kentucky, preparing for his first season at stud.