06/08/2016 9:56AM

WinStar has three for the present – and the future

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Barbara D. Livingston
WinStar owns Belmont starters Creator (above) and Gettysburg, and the farm owns the stallion rights to Exaggerator.

Elliott Walden knows what it takes to win the Belmont Stakes. During his training days, the WinStar Farm president and chief executive saddled Victory Gallop to win the 1998 Belmont Stakes. Victory Gallop ran down Triple Crown hopeful Real Quiet by a nose in one of the most dramatic finishes in the classic’s history.

Walden probably wouldn’t mind a similarly tight finish in Saturday’s renewal of the Belmont – as long as it involves Creator, Exaggerator, or Gettysburg. Creator and Gettysburg carry the WinStar colors in the classic, and the farm also owns the future stallion rights to Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator, the favorite for the Belmont.

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“Knowing we have two sons of the top three stallions going right now coming home to WinStar at some point is very exciting,” Walden said of Creator, by two-time reigning leading sire Tapit, and Exaggerator, by proven classic sire Curlin. “It’s created great energy around the farm. There’s a lot of hope for the future.”

Gettysburg was bred by Whisper Hill Farm, but WinStar has strong ties to both sides of his family. The colt is by the WinStar stallion Pioneerof the Nile, the sire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and hails from the extended family of the farm’s 2010 Belmont Stakes winner and young stallion Drosselmeyer.

Kenny Troutt’s WinStar operation purchased Creator and Gettysburg at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale for $440,000 and $425,000. On Wednesday, WinStar announced that celebrity chef Bobby Flay had bought a minority interest in Creator.

Creator is out of Peruvian-bred Morena, who was her country’s champion 2-year-old filly of 2007, champion 3-year-old filly of 2008, and champion older female of 2009. The Privately Held mare made the final eight starts of her career in the U.S., finishing second in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap and two editions of the Grade 3 Obeah Stakes and third in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Invitational and Grade 2 La Troienne Stakes. In the La Troienne, she finished behind only eventual Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Unrivaled Belle and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.

“He’s always been a really good-looking horse,” Walden said of Creator. “We were attracted by his athleticism and balance at the sale. Being by Tapit is obviously a plus, but I was also intrigued by his bottom side. His mother came over here and ran real well in quality graded stakes.”

Creator was a late bloomer, and Walden credits trainer Steve Asmussen, who is known for his work with Tapit’s famously hot-blooded offspring, for turning the colt into a Grade 1 winner.

“He wasn’t ever a bad actor or anything, he was just immature,” Walden said. “He was like the kid who had trouble concentrating. Steve did a great job balancing [his needs] while advancing his training.”

Creator, who has made every one of his nine starts at beyond a mile, started his career on turf, a strategy Asmussen employed so the late-running colt could get experience without being discouraged by dirt in his face. He finally won a maiden race in his sixth start and promptly moved up to graded-stakes company, finishing third in the Grade 3 Rebel Stakes and winning the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.

Creator was 13th in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby after being checked hard and bumped.

“I liked his chances in the Derby, it’s just that the trip didn’t work out,” Asmussen said.

Asmussen said Creator has a pedigree suitable for the Belmont.

“You get a lot of comfort from his pedigree and how much stay is in his pedigree,” he said. “He is a very efficient horse. I think we’ve seen his attitude has improved, and his energy level is very high right now.”

Gettysburg was a pace factor before fading to fifth in the Arkansas Derby. He bounced back to finish a solid third in a Belmont optional-claiming event won by Gift Box. Recently transferred from trainer Todd Pletcher to the Asmussen barn, Gettysburg is again expected to be a pace factor in the Belmont.

While the two WinStar colts were steadily developing, Exaggerator proved a quick study on the track. The colt was a $110,000 purchase by Matt Bryan’s Big Chief Racing at the Keeneland September sale.

“I spotted him in the back ring and immediately was attracted to him,” trainer Keith Desormeaux said. “Very correct in his conformation, up front and behind. A very good walker; catlike walk with a good coverage of ground and efficiency. His balance – it’s so important, the balance of the placement of his neck, and angle of his shoulder, and length of his back and through his hind end. Balance is so important to efficiency. And intelligent eyes. He had it all physically. Then you go to pedigree. He’s by a sire that I always loved, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a Curlin.”

Exaggerator emerged from the same maiden special weight race as Nyquist and won a maiden race in his second outing. He has competed exclusively in graded stakes since, winning the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Grade 3 Delta Jackpot and finishing second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity as a 2-year-old. He finished second in the Grade 2 San Vicente and third in the Grade 2 San Felipe before romping by 6 1/4 lengths in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby this spring. He then finished a closing second to Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby before turning the tables with an emphatic Preakness victory.

WinStar completed Exaggerator’s stallion deal with the racing partnership of Bryan’s Big Chief Racing, Ron Ortowski’s Rocker O Ranch, and Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners shortly after the Santa Anita Derby.

Walden said WinStar was attracted by Exaggerator’s durability and versatility.

“We call him the extreme racehorse,” Walden said. “He runs at any racetrack – California to New York to Louisiana, he’s touched them all; at any distance – he broke his maiden going short and won a graded stake at Saratoga going [6 1/2 furlongs], to a mile and a quarter in the Derby and anything in between.”

In addition to Walden’s own Belmont score with Victory Gallop, WinStar has had its share of success in the oldest and longest classic, winning the race with Drosselmeyer in 2010 and finishing second with Bluegrass Cat in 2006 and Commissioner in 2014.

Walden thinks both Creator and Exaggerator have the tools to excel at the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont.

“First and foremost, you’ve got to be able to feel like they can get the trip,” Walden said. “The Belmont is the American version of the Epsom Derby and a classic distance. I feel that both are going to be good at a mile and a half. They have it in their pedigree to really do well. Pedigree matters, and running style matters.”