05/19/2016 8:50AM

Keith Desormeaux keeping the faith in Exaggerator

Barbara D. Livingston
Exaggerator has lost to Nyquist all four times the two have faced off, but trainer Keith Desormeaux believes his colt can prevail.

You might call Keith Desormeaux persistent. He’d probably prefer that you call him a man of faith and conviction.

Exaggerator, trained by Desormeaux, has lost all four times he has run against Nyquist, most recently May 7 in the Kentucky Derby – and yet Desormeaux is highly optimistic that Exaggerator will emerge on top when the 141st Preakness is run Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

“I believe in my horse,” said Desormeaux. “I mean, I’ve got all the respect in the world for Nyquist and his connections and what they’ve accomplished. I really do. But that doesn’t mean we can’t go in there confident that we can turn the tables.”

While Exaggerator was frantically trying to make up lost ground in the Derby – the colt was 17 lengths off the lead with a half-mile to go – Nyquist was on cruise control, opening an insurmountable lead in midstretch to finish 1 1/4 lengths clear of Exaggerator.

Nyquist also was the winner in three prior meetings: in their career debuts last June 5 at Santa Anita, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall at Keeneland, and their 3-year-old debuts in the Feb. 15 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita.

Desormeaux also trains a colt named Swipe, who finished second to Nyquist in four straight stakes last year: the Best Pal, Del Mar Futurity, FrontRunner, and BC Juvenile.

This time, however, is when Wile E. Coyote finally catches Road Runner.

“I’ll tell you why I believe so,” said Desormeaux. “One of [Exaggerator’s] attributes is a great ability to recover, to bounce back. He’s always been that way. With just the two weeks between these races, I’m hoping that with the massive performance Nyquist turned in, maybe he’ll be knocked out just a tiny bit. My horse is fully fueled; I’m sure of that. Two days out of the Derby he was wide-eyed and ready to go again.

“I’m hoping this will be the most important factor of all – that we’re going to be sitting on our best race and Nyquist will have hit his plateau already.”

Desormeaux, 49, once again will be giving a leg up to his brother, jockey Kent Desormeaux, 46, whose record-breaking feats in Maryland from September 1986 to January 1990 were the springboard to a Hall of Fame riding career. Keith Desormeaux also spent time in Maryland alongside his brother when he wasn’t back home obtaining a degree in animal science from Louisiana Tech University.

“I worked a summer galloping horses for Tom Caviness and came back for a couple years after graduating,” he said. “I actually took out my first real license as a trainer in Maryland in 1991, after Kent already left for California,” he said, explaining that he previously trained in a less-official capacity while in college.

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Whereas longtime Maryland racing fans can never forget Kent Desormeaux – who came back to win the Preakness in 1998 with Real Quiet and in 2008 with Big Brown – his brother’s time was more fleeting. He worked as an exercise rider and assistant to Charlie Hadry, best known as the trainer of 1988 Derby favorite Private Terms, prior to going solo.

“I made some really good friends, but I’ve pretty much lost touch with everybody over the years,” he said. “It’s just one of those things about life.

“I did really enjoy my time and the people in Maryland. It’d be great to come back and do some good Saturday.”

:: PREAKNESS: Buy pps, watch Saturday's card live

Exaggerator will be trying to become just the third Derby runner-up in the last 55 years to win the Preakness. Since Bally Ache won the 1960 running, only Summer Squall (1990) and Prairie Bayou (1993) have improved from a second in the Derby to win at Pimlico. It’s an extraordinary span that encompasses 40 starters (15 Derby runners-up did not run), including 10 beaten favorites and an overall ROI of a mere $0.33 for every $2 bet.

“I’ve heard some talk about that, but I really can’t put any credence in those numbers,” said Keith Desormeaux. “Wasn’t there a stat about how only one Breeders’ Cup [Juvenile] winner had won the Derby? And look what Nyquist just did. Records are made to be broken, and all that good stuff.

“I’m only focused on my horse and the particular situation we’re in. My horse came out of the Derby in great shape, and I’m very much expecting for him to move forward.”