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Belmont Stakes notebook: Racing in Desormeaux brothers’ genes

Jockey Kent Desormeaux rides Exaggerator onto the track

Jockey Kent Desormeaux rides Exaggerator onto the track on June 6, 2016, for a training session before the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 11, 2016, at Belmont Park in Elmont. Credit: Getty Images / Al Bello

When Kent Desormeaux was riding Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus for Neil Drysdale in 2000, the trainer was asked what stood out most about the jockey. The reserved Englishman thought for a moment and said, “He’s very athletic.”

It runs in the family. Kent was a standout basketball player at North Vermillion High School in Louisiana, specializing in stealing the ball from kids a foot taller. His older brother, Keith, the trainer of Preakness winner and Belmont Stakes favorite Exaggerator, was a very good baseball and basketball player while growing up. The youngest of the three Desormeaux brothers, Kip, earned a basketball scholarship to Millsaps, a small school in Mississippi. Keith said their father, Harris, was an undefeated Golden Gloves boxer until his senior year of college. Keith’s son, Bailey, played wide receiver for Texas Christian.

Keith was asked where the athletic talent originated. The Desormeauxs, he said, are Cajuns through and through, with both sides of the family dating to the middle of the 18th century in southwestern Louisiana, “when they got off the boat.” He believes an influx of Native American blood “three or four generations back” is the source of the jock gene.

“My great-grandfather, or maybe he was my great-great grandfather, on my dad’s side was named Ulysses Desormeaux, and he married a Choctaw woman,” Keith said while walking Exaggerator around Barn 29 on the Belmont Park backstretch. “I saw a newspaper clipping with a wedding picture of them, and underneath it said ‘Ulysses Desormeaux and his Choctaw bride.’ It didn’t even give her name.”

Desormeaux has high cheekbones, as do other family members, and he credits his Choctaw grandma for that look. “A Cajun had children with a Choctaw,” he said. “In thoroughbred breeding, we call that an outcross, and it often improves the line.”

Mother Nature smiles upon hybrids, thoroughbred and human. Two descendants of that anonymous Choctaw woman are the first trainer-brother combination ever to win an American classic.

There’s only one Big Red

Minutes after American Pharoah dominated the Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown last year, trainer Bob Baffert encountered Penny Chenery, who owned the immortal Secretariat. Big Red punctuated his 1973 sweep by crushing “The Test of the Champion” by 31 lengths in 2:24, records that likely will stand forever.

“Penny gave me a big hug and said, ‘What a horse!’ ‘’ Baffert said Thursday. “I whispered in her ear, ‘He’s no Secretariat, but this is as close as I’m going to get.’

“And she said, ‘Right.’ ‘’

Welcome to NY

Baffert said that before last year’s Belmont, he walked to the paddock with his 11-year-old son, Bode.

“I warned him that there might be some people saying bad things about his daddy,’’ Baffert said. “New York is where you usually get that.

“Not one heckler that day. Everyone was on board.’’

Disatant memory

Donnie Von Hemel, who is based mainly in the Midwest and Southwest, ran Suddenbreakingnews on Saturday in the 1½-mile Belmont. Long races have been out of fashion since the 1980s in America, where precocious speed is prized over stamina. Von Hemel is from the old school.

“Distance racing rewards the quality horses and separates the good ones from the mediocre ones and the great ones from the good ones,’’ Von Hemel said. “The five-furlong turf race went from a novelty item to a mainstay. I don’t like them, even though some of my horses have run well in them.’’

Frosted cruises in Met Mile

A year ago, Frosted had the impossible job of chasing American Pharoah in the Belmont, and for a few strides in upper stretch it appeared as if he might threaten the Triple Crown bid. He finished a distant second, the frustrated foil on a day of deliverance for racing. In Saturday’s Met Mile, when Frosted burst clear, he did his best Pharoah imitation, and nobody could catch him.

The gray son of Tapit blew away the field by an insane 14¼ lengths in a stakes-record 1:32.73 for jockey Joel Rosario. There had been talk that the favorite’s 2-1 odds were a bit short in what looked like a contentious field. Frosted ruled the 123rd edition of the Met like a 1-20 shot, missing Najran’s 2003 track record by .49 of a second.

The $1.25-million Met was the longtime anchor of Belmont’s Memorial Day card before being moved to Belmont day in 2014. On his career-best day, Frosted ($6.70) joined the list of Met champions that includes Native Dancer, Buckpasser and Forego. He earned $750,000 for his fifth win in 16 starts for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and Godolphin LLC.

Chad takes Manhattan

Chad Brown, undisputed king of American turf racing, entered four in the $1-million, Grade I Manhattan Stakes at 1¼ miles on the grass. Brown scratched Wake Forest, leaving him with one-third of the field of nine, including the 3-5 favorite, former European star Flintshire, and the defending champion, Slumber.

It seemed like an unfair advantage, and it was. Flintshire ($3.40) surged five-wide into the stretch and won by 1¾ lengths in 1:58.92 for jockey Javier Castellano.

Slumber finished eighth and was pulled up, reportedly lame, and walked onto a van.

The undercard

Careena Mia ($6.10) defeated Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia, the 4-5 favorite, and Black-Eyed Susan winner Go Maggie Go in the Grade I, $700,000 Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Cathryn Sophia ran third and Go Maggie Go was fourth. Bill Mott trains the winner, and Julien Leparoux rode . . . McLaughlin’s Cavorting ($10.60) rallied under Florent Geroux for a 2½-length victory in the Grade I, $1-million Ogden Phipps Stakes for fillies and mares … Pure Sensation ($39.20) canceled most Pick 6 tickets in the opening leg as he blasted 6 furlongs in 1:06.76, a Widener Turf Course record, in the Grade III Jaipur . . . Tom’s Ready ($17.20) surged late to win the Grade II, 7-furlong Woody Stephens by 1¼ lengths … Mott’s 4-year-old filly Celestine ($17) crushed the Grade I Just a Game by 3¾ lengths, zipping a mile in 1:31.64, .01 of a second off the Widener record . . . Brown also trained the day’s first two winners, upsetting Baffert’s 4-5 favorite, Cupid, with Economic Model ($10) in the $150,000 Easy Goer. Cupid broke poorly and finished last of five in the opener of the 13-race card, which began at 11:35 a.m.

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