05/07/2016 7:47PM

For Desormeaux, no shame in being second to the champ again

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Barbara D. Livingston
Exaggerator and jockey Kent Desormeaux finish second in the Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – If trainer Keith Desormeaux was disappointed about coming up 1 1/4 lengths short of winning the Kentucky Derby in his first try, it certainly was hard to tell.

“I don’t know how I could feel any better if I had won,” Desormeaux said.

It took the 49-year-old Desormeaux 25 years to get to the Kentucky Derby, and his horse ran too well to be upset. A bit of traffic 3 1/2 furlongs from the wire could have meant the difference between winning and losing. In the end, Exaggerator finished second to Nyquist, who remained unbeaten in eight starts.

“Just getting here for the owners, getting here for the crew – these guys are so excited and elated for the whole thing,” Desormeaux said. “To get here and run great is big gratification.”

Keith’s younger brother, Kent, the Hall of Fame jockey who has won the Kentucky Derby three times, was equal parts frustrated than gratified. He felt his horse was compromised when he had to steady behind a tiring horse 3 1/2 furlongs from the wire. Kent Desormeaux quickly got Exaggerator moving again entering the turn, and he built up a head of stream while knifing through horses approaching the quarter pole. 

But he had too much ground to make up in the stretch and had to settle for second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Gun Runner.

“I had a perfect trip until the three-eighths pole,” Kent Desormeaux said. “I had to stop him cold, air-break him like an 18-wheeler. I know it was the difference in two lengths. I honestly feel if he makes it to the Preakness, that horse won’t beat him.”

Despite the traffic trouble that Desormeaux alluded to, he and his brother thought the horse still had a chance to win when he turned for home.

“When I got through, I thought I had him, but Nyquist is the champion that he is,” Kent Desormeaux said. “He went on, none of the rest of them could, and I had an altercation in the race.”

Said Keith Desormeaux: “He burst out of the turn and had clear running room all the way down a quarter-mile stretch. My horse is fast. I thought we would catch him for sure. One comment Kent did say was he felt he leveled off the last sixteenth of a mile. He might have run out of training.”

Though the fact that Keith Desormeaux was at the Derby with his brother made for a great story line, Keith said, “The brother thing was way down on the list of emotions. It was cool, but it’s way down.”

Kent did note how calm his brother was before the race.

“He was calmer than any trainer I’ve ever ridden for,” he said. “He gave me the same instructions, ‘Have fun … because we’re coming back.’ ”

Though he’s now finished second six times to Nyquist – four times with Swipe and twice with Exaggerator – Keith Desormeaux said that provided Exaggerator comes out of the Derby in good order, he would like another shot at Nyquist in the Preakness on May 21 at Pimlico.

“It’s too much fun,” Desormeaux said. “It doesn’t make me angry that I keep running second. It’s cool, my horses are running their race. We’re getting outrun by a very nice horse. We’ll tweak a few things and see if we can catch him next time. It’s only two weeks ‘til the next one; it doesn’t depend on a lot of training in between, so I can’t screw him up.”