If you’ve kept up with the Road to the Kentucky Derby and all the Triple Crown™ action, you’ve probably noticed a common thread develop: the rivalry between Nyquist and Exaggerator. These two colts have battled it out in no less than five races thus far, and the score is all tied up as far as the Triple Crown™ is concerned. The Belmont Stakes – its final jewel – will feature the final Triple Crown™ face-off between these two fierce competitors. Who has what it takes to come out on top?
This son of Uncle Mo hasn’t been coddled or gently raced. He’s won eight of the nine total races he’s run, and trust us – he hasn’t been lining up next to featherweights. Nyquist established himself as a prodigy early on, winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall and gaining notoriety within the horse racing industry as its two-year-old horse of the year.
In 2015, naysayers were constantly bringing up the lack of Triple Crown™ success that Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners had seen in the previous three decades. According to Bob Ehalt, “Prior to Nyquist, there were 31 BC Juvenile winners and they were 1-for-31 in the Kentucky Derby (Street Sense was the lone winner in 2007)…. [Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners have] a combined record of 2-for-93 in Triple Crown races and 30 straight years without as much as a Belmont Stakes starter.”
In spite of all the pessimistic talk, expectations were high as Nyquist entered his sophomore debut in the San Vicente Stakes. Nyquist’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, is one of only a handful of trainers who still work their charges the way it used to be done: start off the sophomore year with a sprint to sharpen the horse, and then jump back into the two-turn routine.
Back in the day, this was a winning formula for greats like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed, but since the new points system was introduced, trainers can no longer afford to “waste time” on races that don’t offer points on the Road to the Derby. Guess which other noteworthy trainer still works this way? Keith Desormeaux, trainer of the one and only Exaggerator.
So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when Nyquist and Exaggerator’s first met as three-year-olds in the San Vicente at Santa Anita Park. The two put on a killer show. Sheikh of Sheikhs took the lead early on and gave Nyquist a run for his money, even when Nyquist assumed a narrow lead. Exaggerator waited patiently, then made his move on the outside to push Sheikh of Sheikhs out of the top three finishers.
Though Exaggerator placed second, he put up an incredible fight and came dangerously close to besting Nyquist. If you weren’t a believer in these two talented colts before, you were after the San Vicente. Watch the full race below:
Exaggerator is known for his slow starts, late rallies, and heart-pounding finishes. He put on three impressive performances during his two-year-old season, placing second in the Breeders’ Futurity, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and first in the Delta Downs Jackpot. He was sired by Curlin, who won both the Preakness Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic during his racing career, and Triple Crown™ winner Seattle Slew also holds a place in Exaggerator’s pedigree.
Exaggerator has seen a lot in his day and like Nyquist, he’s been raced quite a bit against extremely competitive fields. Though he finished second to Nyquist in the aforementioned San Vicente Stakes, he didn’t let that keep him down. He’s competed in a total of four races already in 2016 and his camp plans to enter him in the Belmont Stakes (of course) as well as the Travers Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic (hopefully).
When asked during Exaggerator’s two-year-old season about his potential as a Kentucky Derby contender in 2016, trainer Keith Desormeaux was quoted as saying that “He's bred for it. He has the precociousness and the athleticism for it." Exaggerator more than proved that perceived talent in the Santa Anita Derby, where the track was muddy and sloppy. He kept his footing where other horses appeared to be on ice skates and came from behind the pack to demolish the competition with an extremely convincing six-length win.
In the Kentucky Derby itself, Exaggerator emerged as one of the favorites – especially if the track was sloppy. Though there was a brief rain shower just before the race itself, the conditions were favorable as the gates opened. As the field broke from the gate, Exaggerator was off the pace approximately five lengths back. True to his M.O., he waited patiently to make his move and as the final furlong approached, he put his foot on the gas to close in on Nyquist and claim second.
A much different story unfolded in the Preakness. Rain rendered the track extremely muddy…just like Exaggerator likes it. Exaggerator got off to his usual sluggish start, running about thirteen lengths behind Nyquist, who spent nearly all his energy early on fighting the front of the pack. Meanwhile, Exaggerator made steady progress on the rail and crept up on Nyquist, who tried to challenge him by moving to the outside. In the end, Nyquist just didn’t have enough fuel left in his tank and Exaggerator dashed his Triple Crown™ hopes by crossing the finish line first. Watch the full race below!
WHO WILL COME OUT ON TOP AT THE BELMONT STAKES?
At 1 ½ miles, the Belmont Stakes is the longest and arguably the most challenging leg of the Triple Crown™. Nyquist and Exaggerator have each claimed one Triple Crown™ jewel – will one of them be able to settle the score once and for all? Or will another contender pull ahead to secure their spot in the history books? Witness the showdown in person and be the first to applaud the victor!