04/11/2016 3:06PM

Hovdey: Brother Kent will handle Exaggerator hyperbole

Shigeki Kikkawa
Keith and Kent Desormeaux hold aloft the Santa Anita Derby trophy after Exaggerator's victory Saturday.

The media horde primed to cover the 142nd Kentucky Derby gave a whoop and a holler last Saturday when the action provided not only Brody’s Cause and Dale Romans, that mischievous Kentucky quote machine, but also Trojan Nation and Paddy Gallagher, Northern Ireland’s version of Chris Rock.

They should have been enough to feed the hungry media maw. But as the day wound down, there emerged from the muck and mire of Santa Anita’s main track a result so ripe with possibilities that every publication from Mad Magazine to Psychology Today might be begging Churchill Downs for credentials.

The Desormeaux brothers are in the Kentucky Derby, with a horse named Exaggerator, no less.

Keith is the trainer, serious as a heart attack and deeply devoted to his craft. To watch him during training hours is to appreciate a man who understands that the chaos inherent in handling Thoroughbreds can be minimized only through attention to detail and total concentration. He’s kind and courtly to a fault, but it is still best to approach him closer to noon.

Kent, the jockey, will be doing most of the talking, just as he did in the muddy wake of Exaggerator’s 6 1/2-length romp in the Santa Anita Derby. There is nothing quite as delightful as turning on the digital recorder and capturing Kent in full flight, taking his vocabulary out for a spin in glorious defiance of the King’s English.

“My brother was in the paddock, and he was just exuding confidence,” Kent began, having washed off the mud after three stakes wins last Saturday. “And I’m telling you, he doesn’t do that. He says, he’s telling me with this track the way it is, the way this colt is doing, he might tell you just go. It might not matter how you ride him, he’s doing that good. I said, ‘Keith, that’s not how I got here. I’ll leave there and see what they’re doing.’ ‘That’s right,’ he says. ‘Don’t change nothing.’ ”

Then he got on Exaggerator, and the love grew.

“He’s never been so heel-toe,” Kent said. “Until today, everything was happy feet, and that’s compliments to Keith for turning him off. He was just walking, eluding confidence, like ‘Are y’all kidding?’ ”

Here it must be explained that Kent sometimes puts the wrong word in the right place or invents one out of thin air. Of course, he meant Exaggerator was “exuding” confidence – who’s never done that? – while in the post-race interview with NBC Sports, he complimented his colt on “not manhandling” himself. Onward.

“I see the colt once a week to work,” Kent said. “Until last week, he’s drug me around the racetrack in 59 and change, 59 and change, 59 and change. Last week, he went in 1:02. He finally turned off, finally let me ride, finally said, ‘Aw, okay, you drive.’ ”

And drive he did. Kent had Exaggerator far back of Danzing Candy’s pace, splashing along on top of the slop for three-quarters of a mile before unleashing him around the final turn. At that point, Gary Stevens had Mor Spirit in his usual grinding finish, but then Kent and Exaggerator tied them to the quarter pole.

“I loved my chances,” Kent said. “But I wouldn’t imagine he would do that.”

Desormeaux turned 46 in February. His brother is 48. Kent has been riding since he was 16, and he has never not been a famous jockey, from his apprentice Eclipse Award of 1987 to his record 598 wins of 1989 to his Hall of Fame induction of 2004 as one of the youngest riders ever enshrined.

There have been many ups and downs along the way, the downs seeming even more dramatic because the ups have been so high. The media will reacquaint themselves with the bookmarks in the Desormeaux story and have a field day with his slumps, his official warnings for indifferent rides, his self-described battle with the bottle, and his whisker-thin Triple Crown miss with Real Quiet, which haunts him still.

Juicy tales, to be sure, but already told and nothing more than interesting footnotes when measured against his work aboard Horse of the Year Kotashaan, Belmont and Travers winner Summer Bird, and three winners of the Kentucky Derby among his more than 5,700 victories.

“I know for certain I’m still in shock that my brother and I are gonna be in the Kentucky Derby,” Kent said. “And I don’t want to say ‘gonna’ because I’ve heard of horses like A.P. Indy and Texas Red.”

Especially Texas Red. Kent and Keith won the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with the big colt and were excited about his classic prospects last year even in the face of American Pharoah. Then an injury knocked him out before the fun started.

“All the world knows my brother by now,” Kent said. “And we’re polar opposites. He doesn’t say anything. He just lets his product prove his worth.

“I’m just glad he lets me be part of the team in the morning,” Kent added. “But he doesn’t allow me to show up just any time. He knows I talk too much, a lot. He says, ‘You better come around here tongue-tied, not flapping your jaws.’ I respect that in him. And you know why? Because he’s right.”

Is this gonna be fun or what?

Eric Singer More than 1 year ago
I think it would be a mistake to dismiss him based on him being a closer and his response to an off track.  If you look at his full body of work he has shown a steady ability to make a move in each race - sometimes it has been enough and sometimes not - but he has been in contention in every effort.  His figures have slowly risen, and each time he has made a new top he has paired up or moved forward.  He looked like a freight train on Saturday and it was visually impressive.  Am I touting him for the Derby - no, am I ready to dismiss him for running huge - no.
john g More than 1 year ago
I thought I read where Keith was considering Swipe for the Lexington stakes at 1 1/16 if Swipe continued to work good. But it doesn't loo like the 10 points from the Lex., if he won, would be enough points to get in the Derby.Swipe has 12 points in 29'th place now. I would like to see Swipe in the Arkansas Derby, but Keith knows if he is ready or not and what is best for the colt.
Also, Dale Romans should enter Cherry Wine in the Lexington stakes, he may need a few points to make it, unless there are some defections. Cherry Wine is in 23'rd place with 25 points, which in recent years would have been safe, but may be a little shy this year.
alex More than 1 year ago
To win the derby "tactical speed" is a must something Brodies cause does not possess  a deep closer in a 20 horse field is A HUGE disadvantage BC should be along for minor awards at best
slewofdamascus More than 1 year ago
If the track is off for the Derby EX will be an underlay at 5-1 or so. I certainly wouldn't rule him out on a dry track either, butn 5-1 or less is a little hard to take in that case. He seems to be peaking at the most opportune moment and he's fitter than a fiddle. I'll be shocked if he's not in the money, at least.  
He doesn't need a particular track to fire, so the surface is not a likely problem. He's just an extremely well meant individual. If I had to say who I thought was the most likely winner, or the most likely to win if they ran it 100 times, it would be EX right now. Have to see Cupid and SBN in the AD - Cupid had a remarkable gallop-out in his Rebel win. I'd like to know how the 3-week turnaround fares in the last 25 or so derbies? It is a factor that has to be considered, no doubt for each individual. 
Kathy Loppnow More than 1 year ago
What about Swipe? He should go too & Victor should ride.
Juan Pena More than 1 year ago
Swipe can't get in. Not enough points even if he wins Lexington stakes which is worth 10 points for first. That would give give 22 points. The 20th ranked horse has 32 points.