BALTIMORE — Belmont Stakes 148: the rubber match.
Nyquist is coming to Belmont Park to try to avenge his loss to Exaggerator in Saturday’s Preakness. The previously undefeated Kentucky Derby hero finished third after he dueled on the lead and had nothing left to fight off Exaggerator’s rally at muddy Pimlico.
Trainer Doug O’Neill said Nyquist would leave here Monday at 9 a.m. to prepare for the June 11 “Test of the Champion” in Elmont. After Exaggerator canceled dreams of a second consecutive Triple Crown, the consensus was that Nyquist would return to California for a rest.
“It was kind of the plan to point to all three races in the Triple Crown, and ideally win all three,” O’Neill said early Sunday morning. “I thought he ran a real gutsy race, and I just wanted to make sure he was OK this morning before I committed to the Belmont.”
The idea of a rematch appeals to Exaggerator’s trainer, Keith Desormeaux. Nyquist had a 4-0 edge in the rivalry before Exaggerator overpowered him by 3 1⁄2 lengths under Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux, Keith’s younger brother.
“This is fun, isn’t it?” Keith Desormeaux said on a rainy morning after. He said Exaggerator wouldn’t be coming to Long Island before Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest, and probably not until Sunday. He said he doesn’t want to disrupt the colt’s routine.
A NYRA spokeswoman said the prospective Belmont field also includes Preakness also-rans Cherry Wine (second) and Lani (fifth) and Derby also-rans Suddenbreakingnews (fifth), Destin (sixth) and Brody’s Cause (seventh).
The triumph in his Preakness debut brought the career of Keith Desormeaux full circle. During 1988, while on summer vacation from Louisiana Tech, he came to Maryland to gallop horses and live with Kent, who at 18 was one of the country’s hottest jockeys. After graduation, Keith served as Maryland trainer Charles Hadry’s assistant before going out on his own.
Ten years ago, Brenda Desormeaux described her oldest child as “kind of a nomad” because he had bounced around in Maryland, Louisiana, Texas and Southern California. At 49, he’s based at Santa Anita and finally training well-bred, expensive horses. Like a good coach, all he needed was top athletes to make it in the big time.
It’s been a long, hard road from the Cajun bush tracks for the man from tiny Maurice, Louisiana. “I’m just an old country boy who’s been working in the trenches for the past 30 years,” he said. “Any emotions I have are more about being able to get to this position. My dream was just to be able to compete at this level. The actual feeling of winning is just sinking in. I’m still not processing it at all.”
Exaggerator is a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, winner of the 2007 Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Curlin lost by only a head to the filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont, so Desormeaux has no worries about Exaggerator’s stamina. “That mile-and-a-half deal is about pedigree,” he said. “Exaggerator is bred to relish distance, and pedigree wins the Belmont.”
The Preakness was the third major stakes the Desormeaux brothers have won together, along with Exaggerator’s Santa Anita Derby and Texas Red’s 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. It was the seventh Triple Crown victory for Kent (three Derbys, three Preaknesses, one Belmont).
When asked if he would consider a switch to another rider, Keith went along with the joke.
“Yeah, I’m thinking about giving somebody else a chance,” he said. “Kent has won so many of these things, he’s getting greedy. Maybe I’ll get Calvin [Borel] out of retirement.”