06/11/2016 7:15PM

Exaggerator runs out of steam as Belmont Stakes favorite

Barbara D. Livingston
Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator finished 11th in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The rain came too late for Exaggerator.

A proven commodity in the slop, Exaggerator was less than his best over a fast track in Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, fading to 11th in the 13-horse field, 14 lengths behind the winner, Creator. He was the 7-5 favorite.

Thus, Exaggerator’s Triple Crown odyssey ended with a thud. After a strong second to Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby and a dominant win in the Preakness, Exaggerator was a nonfactor in the Belmont.

Shortly after the horses crossed the finish line in the Belmont Stakes, the skies opened up, and heavy rain fell for a brief period at Belmont. It didn’t last very long, and moisture in the track likely would not have made a difference for Exaggerator, who “was empty,” according to jockey Kent Desormeaux, when he asked the horse to run.

“When I picked him up at the quarter pole to try and go and win the race, there was nothing there,” Desormeaux said. “He did not quicken, and he has a turn of foot … when I turn this guy loose, he pops a wheelie, he takes off so fast, and there was nothing there.”

Exaggerator won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in the slop, ran a good second in the Kentucky Derby over a track that had some moisture in it, and then romped to a 3 1/2-length victory in the Preakness in the slop.

“I was hoping to dispel the sloppy-track thing, but you know that’s got to come into play as well,” said Keith Desormeaux, Kent’s brother and the trainer of Exaggerator. “But I think it’s mostly that Belmont’s a deep, sandy surface, and he might have had a little trouble with it.”

Kent Desormeaux said he didn’t believe the surface played a factor in Exaggerator’s subpar performance.

“The track did not get this horse beat,” Desormeaux said.

Instead, Kent Desormeaux felt that his decision to restrain Exaggerator behind a much slower pace than there was in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness may have been the wrong decision.

Exaggerator, breaking from post 11, was sixth in the early stages and about four wide entering the first turn. Gettysburg, as expected, set the pace, running a quarter in 24.09 seconds and a half-mile in 48.48. The pace was three seconds slower than in the Kentucky Derby and two seconds slower than the Preakness.

Exaggerator alternated between fourth and fifth position down the backside and was fifth going to the half-mile pole. Desormeaux said he had “about 10 pounds of pressure on the reins, asking him to wait.”

When the front-runners started to move, Desormeaux decided to wait some more. He said when he let loose of the reins around the turn, he began to worry.

“I released the lines, now I had four pounds of pressure, and they kept opening up on me,” Desormeaux said. “I was praying to God the reins were lying to me because the horse that was keen to progress was not underneath me.”

Desormeaux said he nursed Exaggerator to the quarter pole before he “put him down for a mad drive. I said, ‘Show me your stuff.’ There was nothing there.”

In the final furlong, Desormeaux wrapped up on Exaggerator, and he came home in front of just two horses.

Desormeaux said that in the Derby and Preakness, the pace was much faster, and Exaggerator was going easily without him having to ask him to wait.

For the opening half-mile in the Belmont, Desormeaux said, “We went 15 lengths slower, we were crawling, and his natural speed is 47 and change. In hindsight, I probably would have been better off letting him cruise instead of making him wait. I don’t know what the difference would have been or if there would have been any difference in the outcome.”

Said Keith Desormeaux: “Exaggerator didn’t have the fitness for a mile and a half. It takes a different horse.”