06/08/2016 1:26PM

Fresh legs pose danger to Exaggerator

Barbara D. Livingston
Belmont Stakes favorite Exaggerator, here training at Belmont Park on Wednesday, will be the only other horse besides Lani to compete in all three Triple Crown races this year.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Since the start of the millennium, eight of the 16 runnings of the Belmont Stakes have been won by horses who ran on Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs, then had five weeks off prior to the Belmont.

That angle could prove pivotal again this year, as five of the contenders in the 148th Belmont Stakes on Saturday have been similarly managed in the hopes of pulling off an upset over the favored Exaggerator, who will be just one of two horses – along with Lani – to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year.

:: BELMONT STAKES: News updates, field, and videos

Thirteen horses were entered in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont on Wednesday, the second-largest field in the last 20 years, bested only by the 14 who ran in 2013. With Nyquist having won the Derby and Exaggerator the Preakness, this will be the first Belmont without a Triple Crown bid since 2013.

Exaggerator, who was second in the Derby, drew post 11 and is strongly favored, especially with Nyquist skipping this race after taking ill following the Preakness. Exaggerator is 3-5 on the morning line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper, and 9-5 on the line of Eric Donovan of the New York Racing Association.

Stradivari is the distant second choice on Watchmaker’s line at 10-1, with Destin next at 12-1. Donovan also has Stradivari as the second choice, but at 5-1, and Destin the third choice at only 6-1.

From the rail out, the field is: Governor Malibu, Destin, Cherry Wine, Suddenbreakingnews, Stradivari, Gettysburg, Seeking the Soul, Forever d’Oro, Trojan Nation, Lani, Exaggerator, Brody’s Cause, and Creator.

“Exaggerator is the deserving favorite,” said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Suddenbreakingnews, who was fifth in the Kentucky Derby in his last start after finishing second in the Arkansas Derby. “We have to hope that it’s an advantage that we didn’t run in the Preakness and pointed to the Belmont.

“It was three weeks from the Arkansas Derby to the Kentucky Derby, then it would have been two weeks to the Preakness, then three to the Belmont. We thought our horse’s best chance to win a Grade 1 Triple Crown race was the Belmont.”

Destin (sixth in the Derby), Brody’s Cause (seventh), Creator (13th), and Trojan Nation (16th) have been similarly managed.

“The five weeks should do him some good,” trainer Dale Romans said of Brody’s Cause.

This style of management is a fairly recent phenomenon, reflecting the gradual trend of trainers giving their horses more time between starts. Empire Maker in 2003 and Birdstone in 2004 stopped Triple Crown bids after running in the Derby and then laying in wait until the Belmont.

“It definitely made a difference, I know it did,” trainer Nick Zito, who sent out Birdstone to deny Smarty Jones the Triple Crown, said this week. “The Triple Crown itself is such a strenuous thing. It’s so hard just to get to the Derby with all preps – Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass. So many. Right or wrong? By giving Birdstone a good break in between, he was able to recover mentally.”

Commendable (2000), Jazil (2006), Summer Bird (2009), Union Rags (2012), and Palace Malice (2013) also ran in the Derby and then had five weeks off before winning the Belmont. Rags to Riches (2007) won the Kentucky Oaks the day before that year’s Derby and then awaited the Belmont.

“It’s a logical move for us if you’re not set on the Preakness,” Todd Pletcher, who trained both Rags to Riches and Palace Malice and has Destin on a similar schedule this year, said as he watched his horses train at Belmont Park. “We get to spend five weeks here preparing for it. It makes sense.

“Any time you’re running at your home track, it’s somewhat of an advantage. We get five weeks, settle in. The five weeks from the Derby – or the Oaks in the case of Rags to Riches – is good timing. You get a good foundation in the preps and then the Derby or the Oaks, a real good conditioning foundation you need to run a mile and a half.”

Destin, Pletcher said, “has done well, put on a few pounds since the Derby.”

“I thought he ran an underappreciated race in the Derby,” Pletcher said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t break well. The track was advantageous to horses who were closer than he was. He used up a lot of energy to get to a good position at the top of the stretch, and then he flattened out, but it wasn’t a bad effort by any means.”

Pletcher also trains Stradivari.

Three other trainers have multiple entries. Steve Asmussen has Creator and recently had Gettysburg transferred to his barn, Romans sends out Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine, and Dallas Stewart will run Forever d’Oro and Seeking the Soul, both of whom are owned by Charles Fipke.

Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm is the majority owner of Creator – in whom celebrity chef Bobby Flay purchased a minority interest on Wednesday – and owns Gettysburg. WinStar also owns the breeding rights to Exaggerator.

Exaggerator completed his serious training for the Belmont on Tuesday with a five-furlong workout timed by DRF in 1:00.92. He jogged two miles on the training track Wednesday and seemed quite fresh, as though he’s still thriving despite the demands of the Triple Crown.

“It took him a half-mile to settle,” said trainer Keith Desormeaux.

Also on Wednesday, Lani worked five furlongs in 1:00.74 at the end of the third of his four trips around the oval.

The Belmont is the 11th race on a 13-race card on Saturday. It will be shown live by NBC Sports during a two-hour telecast that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern.

– additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch

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Governor Malibu  12-1 20-1 94 ** ** JP: Second in Peter Pan to a very promising colt. Same trainer, jockey as 2014 Belmont winner Tonalist.
  by Malibu Moon           MW: Appeared to be used much of the way in the Peter Pan. Not sure he'll move forward again here.
  Owner: Jump Sucker Stable & Oak Bluff Stable; Trainer: Christophe Clement; Jockey: Joel Rosario  
Destin  6-1 12-1 100 6th, 93 ** JP: Worked way to a contending position entering lane in Derby, flattened out, failed to switch leads.
  by Giant's Causeway           MW: Pletcher's good. I mean, really good. But this colt has had but one start over the last 13 weeks.
  Owner: Twin Creeks Racing Stables & Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners; Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: Javier Castellano
Cherry Wine 8-1 15-1 96 ** 2nd, 96 JP: Hugged rail in the Preakness and just did get up in the final strides to nose out Nyquist for second.
  by Paddy O'Prado           MW: He really was aided by the fast pace and the slop in the Preakness, but he's improving, too.
  Owner: William Pacella & Frank Jones Jr.; Trainer: Dale Romans; Jockey: Corey Lanerie  
Suddenbreakingnews  10-1 15-1 96 5th, 96 ** JP: After early trouble in Derby, made strong late run, passing 14 runners final half. My pick to upset.
  by Mineshaft           MW: Even if it was because of the fast early pace, he really was motoring late at Churchill. Dangerous.
  Owner: Samuel Henderson; Trainer: Donnie Von Hemel; Jockey: Mike Smith    
Stradivari  5-1 10-1 100 ** 4th, 95 JP: This is his third start off a layoff and he really didn't run all that badly in the slop in the Preakness.
  by Medaglia d'Oro           MW: Having Gettysburg as an early target might be even better for him than if he were the pacesetter.
  Owner: John Gunther, Michael Tabor, et al; Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: John Velazquez  
Gettysburg  30-1 30-1 90 ** ** JP: Entered to help provide pace for late-running WinStar interests like Creator and Exaggerator.
  by Pioneerof the Nile           MW: Surprised it took until Monday for a legitimate speed horse to join the cast, even if he's a rabbit.
  Owner: WinStar Farm; Trainer: Steve Asmussen; Jockey: Paco Lopez      
Seeking the Soul 30-1 30-1 88 ** ** JP: Beat maidens in good time at Churchill, but coming back on short rest, shipping, and aiming high.
  by Perfect Soul           MW: He's also making his first start around two turns. Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?
  Owner: Charles Fipke; Trainer: Dallas Stewart; Jockey: Florent Geroux      
Forever d'Oro 30-1 30-1 81 ** ** JP: Overcame plenty of trouble to beat maidens over this track last time, but this is a huge class hike.
  by Medaglia d'Oro           MW: I think that was a fairly loaded maiden race he won. This is an entirely different deal, however.
  Owner: Charles Fipke; Trainer: Dallas Stewart; Jockey: Jose Ortiz      
Trojan Nation 30-1 50-1 93 16th, 63 ** JP: Got walloped about 100 yards after the start in Derby, lost position, but maiden needs career best.
  by Street Cry           MW: Don't care for maidens running in Triple Crown races, and I know about Sir Barton 97 years ago.
  Owner: Julie Gilbert & Aaron Sones; Trainer: Paddy Gallagher; Jockey: Aaron Gryder  
Lani 20-1 20-1 94 9th, 87 5th, 94 JP: Has fan base and seems certain to get some play, but I thought he just passed tired ones at Pimlico.
  by Tapit           MW: Might have also been helped by the slop in the Preakness, which he's not certain to catch again.
  Owner: Koji Maeda; Trainer: Mikio Matsunaga; Jockey: Yutaka Take      
Exaggerator  9-5 3-5 103 2nd, 101 1st, 101 JP: Has been in career-best form and appears to be coming up to another good effort. He's rock solid.
  by Curlin           MW: Last three races were his best, but with great pace set ups. Pace won't be as fast for him this time.
  Owner: Big Chief Racing, Head of Plains Partners, Rocker O Ranch, et al; Trainer: Keith Desormeaux.; Jockey: Kent Desormeaux
Brody's Cause  20-1 15-1 91 7th, 89 ** JP: Was bumped around at top of the lane in Derby, made fairly decent late run, but did not threaten.
  by Giant's Causeway           MW: Even though he's a two-time Grade 1 winner, he hasn't run a race yet fast enough to win this.
  Owner: Albaugh Family Stable; Trainer: Dale Romans; Jockey: Luis Saez    
Creator  10-1 15-1 96 13th, 76 ** JP: Looked to be making nice run on turn in Derby when he was completely wiped out. Major player.
  by Tapit           MW: My Derby pick remains my pick here. Was lengths ahead of Suddenbreakingnews when blocked.
  Owner: WinStar Farm & Bobby Flay; Trainer: Steve Asmussen; Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.