BALTIMORE — Mother Nature gave mud-loving Exaggerator his preferred track, and Kent Desormeaux gave him a perfect trip. So there will be no Triple Crown encore.
While Exaggerator’s nemesis, the previously undefeated Nyquist, and Uncle Lino dueled through fast fractions, Desormeaux saved ground and bided his time in eighth, then sixth. When he asked his mount to challenge Nyquist, the 3-5 favorite didn’t put up much of a fight Saturday before a record crowd of 135,256 in the 141st Preakness Stakes.
Exaggerator was 0-for-4 against the reigning 2-year-old champion, who ducked to the rail in upper stretch as Exaggerator went by. Mario Gutierrez switched Nyquist to the outside, but this time the Kentucky Derby winner wasn’t going to get Exaggerator. The son of 2007 Preakness champion Curlin led by 1½ lengths at the eighth pole and splashed to a 3½-length win over closer Cherry Wine, who nosed Nyquist for second. Stradivari was fourth.
American Pharoah and the 11 other immortals won’t get company this spring. The last back-to-back Triple Crown winners were Seattle Slew and Affirmed in 1977 and 1978.
Desormeaux’s third Preakness victory was the first for his older brother, Keith Desormeaux. No sibling trainer-jockey duo had ever won it.
“I’m in shock right now,” Kent Desormeaux said. “Nyquist had company all the way around the course, and we were on the inside. I had an absolute dream ride. I was on the fence and they all stayed wide. These turns, you want to paint the fence. We did, they didn’t, and not for nothing, because knowledge is power.’’
Kent Desormeaux, 46, is three years younger than Keith. The Cajuns from tiny Maurice, Louisiana, combined for major stakes wins before, but never one this big. “Racing, this is the only time we’re part of the mainstream media,” Keith said. “This race is called an American classic for a reason. Those are some strong words.”
He’s upbeat about the next one. “The Belmont Stakes is three weeks from today,’’ he said, “and we’ll be there with bells on.”
Nyquist broke well from post 3, and Uncle Lino went with him from the 2. They blasted through a quarter-mile in 22.38 seconds, a Preakness record. They kept it up through a 46.56-second half-mile and 1:11.97 for 6 furlongs. NBC analyst Jerry Bailey called them “toxic fractions.’’ Nyquist led his tormentor by a head after 6 furlongs, but Gutierrez never could get him to relax. Soon the long duel would take its toll when Exaggerator surged six-wide into the stretch.
“I could feel Exaggerator coming,’’ Gutierrez said. “There was nothing we could do. We swung out late but they were tough. We just couldn’t get there.”
Trainer Doug O’Neill was gracious in defeat, the first for his colt in nine starts. “Hats off to Team Desormeaux,’’ O’Neill said. “I didn’t think we could get beat, to be honest with you. Nyquist still ran a great race.”
Exaggerator paid $7.20 after running 1 3/16 miles on a muddy track in 1:58.31 at chilly, rain-soaked Pimlico. He earned $900,000 for his fifth win in 11 starts, raising his total to $2,971,120 for Big Chief Racing, Head of Plains Racing and Rocker O Ranch.
“The horse has been training phenomenally,’’ Keith Desormeaux said. “My philosophy was to take it as easy as possible because you’re not going to gain any fitness in those two weeks after the Derby. I’ve always said he has a great ability to recover from a race, and he showed it today.”
At the postrace news conference, Keith admitted he was upset when Kent took Exaggerator to the inside, which the trainer thought was the most tiring part of the track.
“I wanted to strangle him when I saw him go to the rail,’’ Keith said. “This was the only race he rode today, all the other jockeys realized it’s a quagmire down there, and I’m like, what’s he doing?”
Kent couldn’t resist chiming in with “Welcome to my house,” which cracked up the media.
Keith laughed, too. “That’s exactly right,’’ big brother said. “That’s why I can be so calm before a race, because all the pressure’s off of me, and he’s in the Hall of Fame for making those kind of decisions.”