Exaggerator: A Journey Like No Other
Exaggerator: A Journey Like No Other by Jordan Sigmon– Whatever your involvement is in the sport, a racehorse can take you on a journey that is like nothing else you will ever experience. For many there’s just one big horse that takes them on one of these journeys, but for others, including myself, there are several.
Texas Red was the first horse that even just through a tv screen, I had felt a genuine connection with, to say I was happy when he ran away with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is a huge understatement. His three-year-old season was not what I had hoped it would be, but I loved him no matter what. Enter Exaggerator, a striking son of Curlin who burst into my life, just as I was looking for something to fill the void. His debut was a far cry from the horse he has become, but the talent was there, and I saw it immediately falling in love all over again.
A good friend of mine first introduced me to him several weeks before he even ran his first race. The time between finding out about him and his debut went by in a whirlwind. June 5th, 2016 was the day of his first race, one in which he would finish 5th to eventual Champion two-year-old, Nyquist. Far back early he made up some ground late while running into some traffic issues, but his untouched talent was very evident to me. Just under two months later he made his second start and picked up his first win. That was the first race where I realized how much heart he had, fighting Miner’s Light to the finish and never giving up. Gameness and heart are one of my favorite qualities in a racehorse; I love to see a good battle down the stretch. Of course, him having these attributes only made me love him even more.
Shipped across the country, Exaggerator made his Graded Stakes debut in the Grade II Saratoga Special off just three weeks rest. He was last early but as they rounded the far turn he was bulling his way through horses, and that was when I knew no one would beat him. Again, he showed his exceptional gameness in the stretch and fought Saratoga Mischief all the way to the wire. But this was just his coming out party, and I knew it.
Due to a minor setback, his next start didn’t come for another seven weeks in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity. He didn’t win, but he ran one heck of a race for second after having the time off that he did. It was on to the Breeders’ Cup for the talented colt, which would be my first and only time seeing him in person. My friend and I laughed as he bounced and bucked through the post parade, at one point saying that he reminded us of a jackrabbit the way he was acting. This was the second time he would face Nyquist, but he was one better than in their debut and finished fourth with a bit of an odd trip.
Since the Breeders’ Cup didn’t take very much out of him, Trainer Keith Desormeaux elected to wheel him back quickly for the Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot. He showed a new dimension this day, going to the lead early and taking the race gate to wire. He had to fight every step of the way in the stretch, but when Sunny Ridge pulled even with him and looked him straight in the eye, I knew he had made a grave mistake. Exaggerator had too much heart to let another horse by after being looked in the eye.
His two-year-old debut in the Grade II San Vicente was also his 3rd matchup with Nyquist. A race that was run just one second off the track record, Exaggerator sat comfortably off Nyquist early but only managed second to the Champ. But the gap between the two was getting smaller and smaller; it was hard not to think he’d get by Nyquist one of these days.
The Grade I San Felipe was a rather puzzling race for Exaggerator, with as much as I wanted him to go to the Kentucky Derby, his third place effort in that race left me wondering if he had the stamina to go 1 ¼ miles. He wavered any doubts people had in him with an authoritative win in the GRade I Santa Anita Derby. Was it just the mud and the torrid pace? Maybe, but that didn’t matter to me. My Derby pick since June of the previous year was going to Churchill Downs as one of the favorites and that’s all that mattered.
I couldn’t help but feel confident about his chances after the post position draw and seeing how good he looked on the track training for the race. But there was one thing in his way, Nyquist. The undefeated colt was the clear favorite from a betting standpoint, but Exaggerator was a sentimental choice for many, with his trainer and jockey being brothers’. Who doesn’t love a good family success story? 17th early with Nyquist nearly 20-lengths ahead of him, Exaggerator unleashed his now signature late kick in the stretch but came up 1 ¼ lengths short. Jockey Kent Desormeaux said that he had to put the “air brakes” on around the ⅜ pole when he encountered some traffic problems. Personally, I believe this was the difference between winning and losing for Exaggerator. Nevertheless, he ran his eyeballs out, and he came back safe and sound, that’s what really matters.
A rematch in Baltimore loomed, and excitement was building the entire time between the races.
The first time I saw a video of him training over Pimlico’s dirt, I texted one of my closest friend’s and said, “I don’t care how good Nyquist looks, if Exaggerator continues to look this good all week there isn’t a horse in the race that can beat him. He looks like a king out there.”
Sure enough, I was right. Exaggerator continued to look like a king, and with a little help from mother nature, and the fastest opening quarter mile in Preakness history, Exaggerator finally turned the tables and won by open lengths, while Nyquist could manage only third.
I was watching the race in a hotel room with my trainer and friend at a horse show, both of which probably thought I may have lost my mind a little when the tears of joy streamed down my face as they crossed the wire. That moment was probably one of the happiest moments of my life so far. It’s such a thrill to watch a horse go from being just an ordinary un-raced two-year-old to an American Classic winner. Being able to follow such an exceptional from the beginning is a chance I’m thrilled to have had, and one that I hope many others have shared.
What drew me to Exaggerator is still a mystery, but I’m glad it happened, and the journey isn’t over. There’s still seven more months and many more big races left in the year, with the way he’s been running it’s hard not to think he’s continuing to get better and better as the days go by. And now it’s time for the Test of Champions, the Belmont Stakes at 1 ½ miles. The distance should be right up his alley, and though I’ll be sitting at home watching the race on TV, I’ll be there in spirit, cheering on the colt who stole my heart last June as he makes a bid to capture his second American Classic success.