Exaggerator Faces Dry Dirt in Pennsylvania Derby
Exaggerator Faces Dry Dirt in Pennsylvania Derby by Reinier Macatangay: Time is running out for multiple Grade I winner Exaggerator to prove he can win this year without dark weather. In five 2016 starts on fast dirt, the 3-year-old son of Curlin has lost five times. In contrast, sloppy tracks have helped this closer pad his record, as he owns three Grade I trophies over wet dirt, and remains in the Eclipse Award hunt.
On Saturday at Parx Racing, Exaggerator will run on a dry surface again in the $1,250,000 Pennsylvania Derby (GII), at the 1 1/8-mile distance. He will compete in a field which includes Kentucky Derby (GI) champion Nyquist.
Back in February, the pair met in the San Vicente Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita Park, where Nyquist handily defeated Exaggerator going seven furlongs.
Nyquist then took aim at Florida, while Exaggerator continued on the California path and finished third in the San Felipe Stakes (GII). In fairness, Exaggerator made a premature move and did well to stay on and keep fighting.
In the Santa Anita Derby (GI), with Nyquist still absent, Exaggerator had the perfect storm of a sloppy track and fast pace, which Exaggerator then converted into a romping victory over six lengths for trainer Keith Desormeaux.
But, poor Exaggerator had to face Nyquist on dry dirt once more in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, and Nyquist once again defeated his constant rival by stalking closely and striking at the top of the stretch. It is noteworthy Exaggerator fired a good race too from behind and finished runner-up, which gives some hope.
Two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes (GI) at Pimlico, Exaggerator received the perfect storm of a sloppy track and fast pace a second time, and finally defeated Nyquist with his familiar strong closing kick.
Ironically enough, because of the lack of hype towards Nyquist compared to other undefeated horses, no one seemed to feel too sad about the outcome. Plus, most fans love Exaggerator, so it was a popular victory.
Exaggerator then threw in a huge clunker in the Belmont Stakes (GI) over dry dirt, losing by 14 lengths.
He rebounded with a powerful-looking win in the Haskell Stakes (GI) at Monmouth Park, with the perfect storm of a sloppy track and fast pace for the third time. Meanwhile, Nyquist dueled from the rail and faded.
Back on a fast main track for the Travers Stakes (GI) at Saratoga in late August, Exaggerator threw an even more glaring clunker losing by 33 lengths after jockey Kent Desormeaux eased him when the outcome became clear.
Do you forgive the effort?
No horse really closed from behind during Arrogate’s historic Travers win. Even though the raw fractions were fast, something about how the race unfolded seems strange. For example, Arrogate’s stablemate American Freedom chased in second for most of the race, and stayed there. Not one horse could pass him.
Usually, when a speed horse sees another speed horse opening up after a swift pace, the less dominant speed will fold and let one of the closers clunk up for a piece. American Freedom could just be a talented horse.
A lot of speed is lined up in this spot. Besides Nyquist, the race features quality speed types such as Awesome Slew, Summer Revolution, Cupid, Gun Runner and Hit It Once More. Those six appear set to tangle up front.
Before the Travers, Keith Desormeaux mentioned Exaggerator needed pace, not mud.
He gets pace in this spot.
The excuses are piling up, but Exaggerator probably deserves top consideration because of the expected pace scenario, with Nyquist likely to hang around for a share, or win if Exaggerator fails to fire.
For a longshot pick, give My Man Sam (20-1) a long look, and decide if his so-so Travers effort can be forgiven too.