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Favorite Exaggerator comes up empty in Belmont Stakes

Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr riding Creator, center in

Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr riding Creator, center in white, winning The Running of the 148th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park Elmont June 11, 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Kent Desormeaux had to find a place for Exaggerator to run. The winner of the Preakness, the second-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby and the overwhelming favorite in the Belmont Stakes needed a clear path to the finish after being caught in traffic early in the final jewel of the Triple Crown.

“They slowed down in his face and I elected, instead of going any slower because I felt like I was crawling — for him it was crawling — so I hopped heels and let him set himself up on the outside,” the jockey said. “Now there’s not a straw in his path and it’s his race to win, or lose.”

Exaggerator lost, and decidedly so. He was a well-beaten 11th.

When Desormeaux asked him to run at the top of the stretch he was surprised at how little response he got. With such a slow pace, he expected Exaggerator to blast off, not tail off.

“I couldn’t believe we were going so slow for such an animal, such a talent, such a horse with expeditious speed,” Desormeaux said. “The horse that was keen to progress was not underneath me. I nursed him to the quarter pole and set him down, put him down for a mad drive and said, ‘Show me your stuff,’ and there was nothing there.”

The Triple Crown campaign, three races in five weeks, is an arduous undertaking for the 3-year-old thoroughbreds whose owners and trainers seek glory and the pile of cash that can come with it.

Nyquist won the Derby the first Saturday of May, but Exaggerator blew by him in the stretch at the Preakness two weeks later, winning handily on a sloppy track. Saturday in the Belmont Stakes, Exaggerator was no factor, starting from post 11 and never getting better than fifth as he trailed winner Creator by 14 lengths at the finish.

“As for the Triple Crown this horse was as fresh as a horse can be,” said Kent’s brother and the horse’s trainer, Keith Desormeaux. “I might not be a Hall of Fame trainer, but I know when my horse is fresh.”

The trainer thought his horse’s response may have had something to do with the nature of the Belmont track.

“I was hoping to dispel the sloppy track thing, but that has to come into play as well,” Keith Desormeaux said. “I think it’s mostly Belmont is a deep sandy surface and he might have had a little trouble with it.”

But according to Kent, the track couldn’t have been better. “The track today is in perfect shape,” he said. “It’s silky sand, they have a beautiful cushion. If I could draw this track all over the world and have the surface underneath this horse’s feet, this is what I would ask for. Congratulations to Belmont; the track did not get this horse beat. It was wonderful.”

Keith Desormeaux downplayed thoughts of deep disappointment. “I am surprisingly not [as disappointed] as you might think,” he said. “It was a heck of an accomplishment to win the Preakness, win a classic. Creator is a good son of a gun. I put him in my exactas.”

Kent Desormeaux spoke for his horse.

“What he’s been through, he says ‘you guys go ahead, I’ll catch you all again next week,’” Kent said. “Maybe that’s all there is to it.”

New York Sports