Surviving a jockey objection, Exaggerator won his third Grade I of the season in the Haskell Invitational (G1), giving his sire (Curlin) his fourth stakes winner of the weekend.
Many questioned the decision to send Exaggerator to the Haskell Invitation after trainer Keith Desormeaux voiced concerns about the colt’s final work before the race. After the work that Desormeaux deemed a “C,” it was even said that Exaggerator may skip both the Jim Dandy Stakes (GII) and the Haskell Invitational and simply train up to the Travers Stakes (GI).
A second look and a couple nights to sleep on the decision, gave Desormeaux a change of heart. Whether it was due to the likelihood of an off track or a pace that seemed faster on paper, Desormeaux made the right choice.
Rain and storms plagued Monmouth Park all weekend long, including Haskell Day, resulting in another sloppy track for Exaggerator. When the gates opened, a race that looked similar to the Preakness Stakes unfolded.
“The race set up eerily like the Preakness,” Desormeaux said. “They were three abreast, head and head, fighting to stay outside again.”
Led by Nyquist, with American Freedom, Awesome Slew and Gun Runner close in tow, the field blitzed the first quarter in :22.78 and the first half mile in :46.62. Shortly after that, Exaggerator began to pull jockey Kent Desormeaux closer to the lead.
“I think the most impressive thing was down the backside,” Desormeaux described. “The run from the three-quarter pole to the half pole, I’ll bet you my brother was in shock asking ‘where the hell is he going’, but the fact of the matter was I wasn’t going anywhere.
“He was effortlessly galloping and reeling them in. He proved it down the lane, he just exploded.”
Exaggerator, indeed, exploded.
Despite getting floated several paths wide on the far turn, Exaggerator surged to the lead, moving to the rail after clearing American Freedom who ran on for second.
The final time for the Haskell Invitational was a solid 1:48.70 for the 1 1/8-mile journey. The official margin of victory was listed as one and a half lengths. But before it was made official, an objection was lodged by Rafael Bejarano, the rider of American Freedom.
After listening to both jockeys and reviewing the film, the stewards found that Exaggerator did not interfere with American Freedom while crossing over to the rail.
“When he came around me, he crossed me a couple times,” said Bejarano. “I had to change my course in the stretch and then let him run again.
“I’m completely disappointed. We are hoping everyone had a clean race, in such a prestigious race, and he definitely crossed my lane and I had to change my course.”
Bejarano also told TVG reporters that coming over is something that Kent does routinely in the stretch run.
“Well, I’ll come over if I’m clear all the time,” Desormeaux responded. “I did the same thing to Nyquist in the Preakness. When I clear a horse I want to throw mud in their face to distract them from re-engaging.
“I think the stewards will make it plainly clear that I was quite clear.”
Such an impressive victory begs the question of where Exaggerator will wind up next? With his win on Saturday, he has taken command of his division and, with that in mind, does he take the next logical step and move on to the Travers Stakes?
“Absolutely, that [Saratoga] is where the East Coast stable is based,” Keith Desormeaux said of going to the Travers Stakes. “The Travers is a famous race. I hope to see a better style of breeze. He [Exaggerator] was struggling with the track and hopefully that changes.”
Armed with three Grade I victories, Exaggerator is now arguably the top three-year-old in the country. He has managed to win over three different tracks in three different states. The only question left for him to answer is can he replicate his success over a fast track?
Hopefully, at Saratoga, in the Travers Stakes, we will get our answer.