07/31/2016 8:09PM

Exaggerator takes command with victory in Haskell

Joe Labozzetta/EQUI-PHOTO.
Exaggerator, 6, with Kent Desormeaux up, wins the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Sunday.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - In a race eerily reminiscent of the Preakness, which also was run over a sloppy track, Exaggerator made a middle move to contention on the backstretch of the Haskell Invitational, then forged to the front in upper stretch to upset Nyquist in a major 3-year-old stakes at Monmouth Park on Sunday.

The difference, though, is Exagerrator's Preakness victory moved him to near the top of the 3-year-old division. In the Haskell, he arguably grabbed the No. 1 spot.

"We've won three Grade 1 races this year now," said Matt Bryan, the principal of Big Chief Racing, a co-owner of Exaggerator. "I feel like we have a leg up now."

In the Haskell, Nyquist, Awesome Slew, Gun Runner, and American Freedom all showed speed from the gate. Entering the first turn, American Freedom was fanned four wide and Gun Runner dropped back off the pace after racing three wide between horses. The quarter went in a quick 22.78 seconds.

On the backstretch, American Freedom took a short lead outside Nyquist with Awesome Speed and Gun Runner racing behind them. At this point, Exaggerator, who was last early, began a steady advance while racing well out in the track under jockey Kent Desormeaux.

"From the three-quarter pole to the half-mile pole I wasn't asking him to go anywhere, he was just galloping," Desormeaux said.

Desormeaux took a light hold of Exaggerator on the far turn, while American Freedom and Nyquist continued to duke it out on the lead through fractions of 46.62 and 1:11, with Gun Runner looming three wide.

"It got to the point that I thought I was going to get there too soon, so I slowed him down," Desormeaux said.

Nearing the furlong pole, American Freedom, with Rafael Bejarano up, began to get the best of Nyquist and jockey Mario Gutierrez.

Exaggerator forged to the front from the outside and he and American Freedom came close to making contact as Exaggerator went by. Exaggerator then came inward in front of American Freedom while drawing away to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Bejarano lodged a claim of foul against American Freedom and Desormeaux for interference in the stretch, but it was not allowed.

After the race, an angry Bejarano said, "This guy, he always does that. Whenever he's outside he always comes in, and he crossed over on me. It cost me the race, you know."

Desormeaux said he and American Freedom did not make contact and that "it was a big race. Once I was clear, of course I came over and kicked some mud back at him."

American Freedom held second by two lengths over 31-1 shot Sunny Ridge, who bested Nyquist for third by a neck. Gun Runner finished fifth while Awesome Slew, who was close-up early, tired badly to be last in the six-horse field.

Exaggerator has now won the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, and Haskell this year for trainer Keith Desormeaux. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby to Nyquist, who also won the Florida Derby.

At a post race press conference, Julie Clark, Desormeaux's assistant trainer, said "we've talked about the Travers being the next race, and I haven't heard anything different. We are headed back to Saratoga tomorrow."

Keith Desormeaux, who watched the race in California, told TVG, "I will absolutely consider the Travers at Saratoga for him next."

American Freedom could also be Travers-bound, according to trainer Bob Baffert, who also watched the race at Del Mar.

"We'll decide tomorrow whether to bring him back home or send him to Saratoga," Baffert said by phone. "We're probably going to the Travers."

Doug O'Neill, the trainer of Nyquist, had no excuses after the race.

"We will regroup, see how he comes out of it and go from there," O'Neill said. "I thought Mario rode him perfectly. That's how he had to ride, with confidence."

Exaggerator paid $7.20 to win as the second choice behind even-money favorite Nyquist. Exaggerator is now four for five over wet tracks in his career. He covered 1 1/8 mile in 1:48.70.

The Haskell is part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge Series and Exaggerator earned a Win and You're In berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5 for his victory.

The Haskell was Exaggerator's first start since he tired badly to finish 11th of 13 horses in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. He remained at Belmont with Clark overseeing his training after that race.

"He was gassed after the Belmont," Clark said. "He was as slow to recover after a race as I've seen. It took him about a week to recover."

Exaggerator was put back in training at Belmont and worked a slow half-mile there July 9. He was then sent to Saratoga, where he worked five furlongs July 16 and six furlongs July 23.

Exaggerator was originally being pointed to the Travers, but on Wednesday a decision was made to re-route him to the Haskell.

"We were talking for two weeks trying to decide where to go," said Bryan, his owner.

Clark explained that Exaggerator had not been visually impressive in his Saratoga works, which played a part in the decision to come to the Haskell. She said in his first work, Exaggerator started looking around in the stretch and the jockey had to pump on him. She said the track was playing slow in his second work.

"He actually started training better once we got him to Saratoga," Clark said. "I don't think the heavy Belmont going was to his liking."

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Ronald Dodgen More than 1 year ago
This is one lucky horse, He got wicked pace setups in the Preakness and Haskell plus the mud which he loves. Will he ever win a stakes on a dry track?
Bill Keating More than 1 year ago
Any horse, however great, if made to run too fast in the first two-thirds of a race will be gasping in the stretch. See the famous 1978 Jockey Club run at a mile and a half at Belmont. Triple Crown Winners Affirmed and Seattle sizzled through the first 6 furlongs together at 1:09.2, and plodder Exceller (a Hall of Famer) passed both of them, although Slew mounted a furious effort to retake the lead, missing by a nose.
Wendy Wesley More than 1 year ago
We saw Mr Reddam after the race and he was upset about the ride on Nyquist.Sons of Uncle Mo like to stalk from the outside.Getting caught up in these speed duals is not good for the psychology of this horse.Team Oneil needs to skip theTravers and get this horses mind right.I would put him on the turf and get him ready for the Pegasus at Gulfstream.This horse is a champion,but his handlers need to proceed with caution.Sorry Mario but if you want to be great you have to make better decisions!
Chris More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure I agree with you.  He seems to run best on the lead.  But perhaps they need to not run him long, or put him in races with speed duels.  This sets up perfectly for Exaggerator.
Jyonni Sincere More than 1 year ago
Nyquist is still the Champ .. Three Slop wins Mean Nothing..
Chris More than 1 year ago
Apparently you missed his last 2 races?  Great horse, but champ?  Hardly.
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
after watching the jim dandy and the haskell,it confirms my thinking that this is the worst bunch of 3 year olds in the last 20 years. the belmont winner beaten by a maiden,the derby winner beaten again,and exaggerator needs a monsoon to win. this group will be forgotten and non-competitive in the bc
Frank More than 1 year ago
to all the na sayers about breeding....

The Uncle Mo colts are not bred to go beyond 1 1/16th (they are milers).  I know it can happen and will happen on exception.  

Mark my words - Nyquist - if he is still healthy at the end of year - you will see him in the BC Mile instead of the Classic -- I dont think Drug O'Neil is that dumb or maybe he is...
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
Generally speaking you may be right; but that is not 100%; it also ignores the importance of the other half of the equation. They said the same about Lucky Pulpit (California Chrome) and the sire of Melatonin. You can also say the same about Tapit. Even though he has had longer distance runners, most believe he is a miler at his best or 1 1/8; the same can be said of Medaglia D'Oro, who, when he ran, usually just missed at the longer distances. The industry chose to focus on breeding speed; and now we see the impacts.
Chris More than 1 year ago
Sorry but Nyquist stands zero chance of winning the BC Classic.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Three big victories for curlin this weekend.  
Whats the beyer on lord nelson ?  He and american freedom are pulpit with baffert
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Curlin was very impressive in his breeders cup classic victory on monmouths sloppy track
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
David Najar More than 1 year ago
Exaggerator went by American Freedom like he was tied to a tree.Bajerano took a shot and claimed a foul knowing he had no chance of winning the claim, but just as Bajerano said it was a million dollar race so he had nothing to lose claiming foul.
Bill Keating More than 1 year ago
Exaggerator's decision to run in the Travers, if it holds, put the connections of Nyquist in a difficult position. If Nyquist runs in the Travers and loses his third straight race, much of the prestige earned by winning the Derby will be gone. If Nyquist ducks the Travers, then if Exaggerator should win he would become the leading three year old by virtue of four Grade 1 wins at four different tracks. Even if Exaggerator doesn't win the Travers, but runs very well, sentiment will still shift away from Nyquist.

In the 70s and 80s, when the stud value of champion horses began to explode, quite a few connections of a horse in Nyquist's position would suddenly "discover" a fairly minor injury to the horse that would require sidelining him for a few months, and then announce a month or two later that the small injury had not cleared up and that they had decided to retire the horse for the good of the horse, and not because they were afraid of his stud fee sliding further.

Nothing aimed at the Nyquist connections in this. I really know little about this.  But it will be interesting to see how they handle this.
DoctorDerby More than 1 year ago
I agree, the connections of Nyquist are in a difficult situation. The problem is they cannot run him on a sloppy track anymore. If Exaggerator wins the Travers, he will be tough to catch for the Eclipse. I don't think Nyquist will go to Saratoga, it will be interesting to see what happens.
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
At least in past decades they seemed more concerned about the well-being of the horse. Better cautious than foolish. More recently, especially the East Coast press, allowed their favorite horses a bye, avoiding hard races. Rachel Alexandra was allowed to not run against Zenyatta in the Classic, which she would have lost and have not been rewarded with HOY. No injuries were involved. Their clever handlers said they didn't want to run her on the synthetic surface. Yeah. Any complaints from her fan club: none. She ducked getting beat and was still voted HOY. So give credit to Nyquist and even Exaggerator, for continuing to run. The concern is that they are pushing Nyquist in unknown straits, like running in the slop, and putting the horse at risk of injury. They should have scratched him. Exaggerator is a mud freak; his best races came in the mud. Give him credit for being the best three-year old off track specialist. But his handlers now seem to be going overboard, with wanting to run him. Unless the track will be off, why run Exaggerator in the Travers, which is also at the longer distance. He most likely will not run, unless it rains. The marquee race for three-year-olds is the Kentucky Derby. Nyquist most likely has already won three-year-old Eclipse. Unless Exaggerator wins the Breeder's Cup Classic, these East Coast races don't reveal much. Remember Keen Ice beating American Pharoah; a blip. The season is close to over, except for the Breeder's Cup.
Thomas More than 1 year ago
Funny how all 6 horses and jockeys tried to win and rode as hard as they could to win,  unlike Stevens and Beholder the day before. 
Robert More than 1 year ago
Appeared Stevens ride was very soft and respected Beholder so much he avoided whipping and driving out of respect to her.