04/06/2016 11:26AM

Exaggerator gets shot at redemption in Santa Anita Derby

Barbara D. Livingston
Exaggerator (left) finished second to Nyquist in the San Vicente, but his race in the San Felipe was not as strong.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The way Exaggerator ran against Nyquist in the San Vicente Stakes in February, coupled with how strong Nyquist subsequently ran in Florida Derby last Saturday, continues to leave trainer Keith Desormeaux puzzled over Exaggerator’s second start of the year, last month’s San Felipe Stakes, in which he finished third to Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit.

“I’m still scratching my head over the San Felipe, even more so after watching how strong Nyquist was on Saturday,” Desormeaux said at Santa Anita. “He flattened out. Maybe we can attribute it to the bounce theory. We’re going into the weekend with a lot of confidence.”

Exaggerator will get a chance to reverse the San Felipe result when he again takes on Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit on Saturday in the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby. The field was also expected to include San Felipe also-rans Uncle Lino and Smokey Image, stretch-out sprinters Iron Rob and Denman’s Call, and the longshot Diplodocus. Entries were to be taken and posts drawn Wednesday.

Exaggerator had a strong 2-year-old campaign, with six starts, including a victory in the Delta Jackpot and a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. After a brief freshening, he finished second to Nyquist in the seven-furlong San Vicente. In the San Felipe, at 1 1/16 miles, he made a menacing move entering the lane and got up to second behind Danzing Candy but lost his punch late and was passed by Mor Spirit.

The Santa Anita Derby, at 1 1/8 miles, is worth 170 points overall – with 100 to the winner – under the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the May 7 Kentucky Derby if more than the maximum of 20 horses enter.

Exaggerator’s performance Saturday will have implications as to whom Desormeaux puts on Swipe when he makes his 3-year-old debut April 16 in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Kent Desormeaux, Keith’s brother, rides Exaggerator.

“If Exaggerator stinks up the joint, Kent will ride Swipe,” Desormeaux said. “If Exaggerator runs well and goes on to the Derby, we’ll need a rider for Swipe.”

There is still a chance that Swipe can make the Kentucky Derby, but Desormeaux first wants to get him back to the races and then make an assessment. Swipe has just 12 Derby qualifying points. The Lexington is worth a mere 10 to the winner, so even a victory might leave him short of making the Derby.

“The Lexington might not be the best for him in terms of making the Derby, but it’s the most practical and right way to bring him back,” Desormeaux said.

“It’s better to start out at a mile and sixteenth as opposed to one of these mile-and-an-eighth races,” Desormeaux said, referring to the Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, and Arkansas Derby, “and he’ll get a little class relief not running in Grade 1 company against horses trying to make the biggest race in the country. The Derby is not the end-all.”