After a couple of nights to sleep on it, we still woke to find it still was not a dream: Exaggerator won the Preakness. Curlin himself accomplished that feat in 2007, and now he has a son who has done the same.
In four crops, Exaggerator is the second son of Curlin to see the starter in the Preakness. The first did well for himself, too. Ride On Curlin, coming back from a seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, rallied for second behind a dominant California Chrome.
Beyond the facts that each made a solid but not quite winning Kentucky Derby try, and the fact that the Preakness was each horse’s fifth start at age three, Exaggerator’s path to Preakness glory hardly resembled his sire’s.
Curlin himself had the Curse of Apollo hanging over his head. He did not debut until his three-year-old winter, easily winning his Gulfstream unveiling. He rolled in a pair of preps at Oaklawn, had his first real test while finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, and then won the Preakness in just his fifth lifetime start.
Curlin’s Preakness-winning son started six times during his juvenile year alone.
Exaggerator began to show early that he was special. More than most Curlin babies, he was precocious. Though he finished a non-threatening fifth on debut last June behind some 7/1 shot named Nyquist, he came back to win the next month at Del Mar, mustering a thrilling rally to nail Miner’s Light at the wire.
That win was enough for trainer Keith Desormeaux to send him east for the Saratoga Special (GII). That stakes debut was the first inkling that Exaggerator might end up someone truly special: as a two-year-old, in just his third race, he squeezed through a hole at which older and more experienced horses may have balked. That move took maturity.
Through the rest of his juvenile year, Exaggerator showed his class and his adaptability. The road was not without its bumps, but he showed up, and he learned. Apparently home free in the Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland, he got a little overconfident on the front, and Brody’s Cause ran him down. Of course, that one has proven to be another very nice horse.
Exaggerator was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Nyquist, Swipe, and Brody’s Cause. It was in his next race — the Delta Downs Jackpot (GIII) — where he showed his versatility, and showed that he had learned and matured since the Breeders’ Futurity. Instead of closing from well off the pace, he was near the front throughout. And instead of getting lax once he struck the front, he kept his focus. A game Sunny Ridge gave his best, but Exaggerator refused to let him pass.
Though both Exaggerator and stablemate Swipe kept butting heads with At age two it was Exaggerator’s stablemate Swipe who kept butting heads with Nyquist in the most prominent spots. While Exaggerator had been off the board behind Nyquist twice at two, Swipe was second behind him four times, all in graded stakes company. This year, with Swipe on the sidelines, Exaggerator stepped into that role.
Both Nyquist and Exaggerator began their Classic seasons in the San Vicente, opting for a zero-point sprint prep before facing two-turn Derby preps. Both horses ran well in that seven-furlong race, but Nyquist had the tactical advantage. Exaggerator finished gamely — but so did the champ, leaving his challenger to settle for second.
Nyquist shipped east to find his fortune in Florida, then, leaving Exaggerator out west without him. In the San Felipe, Exaggerator thrilled his fans by commencing a dazzling run as the field went into the far turn. However, his run stalled out late, and he finished third behind Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit.
Doubts arose. Was he better going short? Did he need to run in the slop?
The muddy outing in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) may not have answered those questions, but it was a brilliant outing nonetheless. He mounted another run into Danzing Candy’s torrid early fractions, evoking shades of the San Felipe. But, this time, Exaggerator kept right on rolling and won his first career Grade I by half a dozen easy lengths.
Though Exaggerator did not win the Kentucky Derby, it revealed more about what he could do. He did not catch Nyquist, but he showed what Mother Nature would not allow him to show in his final prep. It suggested the San Felipe was an off day — Exaggerator could sustain his run on a dry track against the best of his class, and could keep going strong a mile and a quarter.
Everything came together in classic fashion in Baltimore. That included what Exaggerator and his people could control, and what they couldn’t.
He got pace thanks to Uncle Lino and Nyquist. He got the mud he loved. He got a brilliant ride from Kent Desormeaux. He made a move far earlier than he had in any of his recent races, making it to striking distance even before the field hit the far turn, and still was able to sustain that.
Exaggerator is all class. He is a fast horse, an adaptable horse, and has the classic stamina. It all came together in the Preakness, just like it did for his sire.
What does the future hold for Exaggerator?
For one, the Belmont. Trainer Keith Desormeaux has made no secret that he plans to have Exaggerator back in three weeks and send him a mile and a half. All reports are that he came out of the Preakness well, so going on to New York makes sense. Beyond that?
If he can stay sound, and follow in the steps of so many of his sire’s progeny, he could even improve with age. If he can follow in the steps of his sire, he could become a force in the handicap division.
Exaggerator has already given us a year of excitement. Here’s hoping for several more.