This part is relatively new to trainer Keith Desormeaux: the media circus, the outpouring of scrutiny. And anyone diving into the Kentucky Derby pool for the first time ought to be given some rope for taking a few awkward strokes before getting into the rhythm of the moment.
After anxiously asking reporters to give his barn some space as his Grade I-winning Exaggerator cooled out following a 5-furlong move in 1:02.60 at Churchill Downs on Saturday morning, Desormeaux apologized for being a bit high-strung himself in his first morning beneath the Twin Spires.
“I’m a rookie. I’ve been gone for a while,” the Louisiana native said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for you all to stand in the rain like this.”
One thing that put Desormeaux at ease was talking about the colt who is slated to become his first Kentucky Derby starter.
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Exaggerator completed his final serious preparations in advance of the first leg of the Triple Crown, cutting splits of 12.80, 25.20, 37.80, 50.40 and galloping out in 1:15.60 and 1:29.60 under Hall of Famer and three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Kent Desormeaux, aka younger brother of Keith.
Not known for working his horses terribly fast, Keith Desormeaux was suitably impressed by his charge’s morning activity. Rather than trying to put more speed into the big-bodied son of Curlin, Desormeaux prefers to go the stamina route — a philosophy he is especially proud to see finally bring him to Thoroughbred racing’s biggest stage.
“It didn’t matter where I was, either Louisiana or north Texas or Kentucky, my goal was always to become a better trainer at endurance races even though there are not many of those races in my neck of the woods,” said Desormeaux, who also co-owns Exaggerator in a partnership that also includes Big Chief Racing. “It prepared me for this day, remaining with that style, knowing that style worked even if it’s not a typical style of racing today.”
After running second to unbeaten Nyquist in the Grade II San Vicente on Feb. 15 and third in the Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita Park on March 12, Exaggerator made his case to be among the top three betting choices on May 7 when he captured the Santa Anita Derby by 6¼ lengths over a sloppy track on April 9.
Thrilled as he was, Desormeaux did not hesitate to say his bay colt absolutely benefitted from the wicked pace that day as Danzing Candy cut the opening half mile in 45.24. He also showed much respect to Nyquist — who defeated Exaggerator for the third time — saying his hope is that the Kentucky Derby favorite is finally leveling off as his colt continues to grow.
“Nyquist is a faster horse, he has proved that. What else do he have to do,” Desormeaux said. “The only thing I can hope for is you all know, these young horses are maturing daily, they are still not physically at their peak.”
Brody’s Cause leaves Romans boastful
There are times when the stopwatch doesn’t tell the whole story of a horse’s workout.
As impressive as Brody’s Cause’s clocking of 1:00.20 for 5 furlongs at Churchill Downs on Saturday was, it was how the Grade I-winning son of Giant’s Causeway executed his final work before the Kentucky Derby that had trainer Dale Romans making grandiose statements about his confidence.
With assistant and exercise rider Tammy Fox in the irons, Brody’s Cause zipped around the Churchill oval in an easy, relaxed manner, posting splits of 11.60, 23.40, 35.40, and 47.40 with a gallop out in 1:13.40 and 1:28.20.
“He worked perfect. He went around there relaxed but he went fast relaxed and that’s when they’re really doing good,” Romans said of the Blue Grass Stakes winner. “And by the time he got to the barn, he was already recovered and looked like he was fresh, like he hadn’t done anything. I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.
“He went around there in a minute and did it like it was nothing. If they’re not blowing, they’re on target. And he wasn’t taking a deep breath.”
Romans has never backed off of making bold statements — for better or worse. But there was an extra dose of sincerity as he talked about why Brody’s Cause has him feeling more confident at this stage than any of the previous six times he saddled a Kentucky Derby starter.
While the expected Kentucky Derby field features an ample amount of horses that share Brody’s Cause’s late-running style, he has shown a more handy turn of foot than a traditional closer.
“If you have a closer that just kind of plods along, and he can’t really accelerate but he keeps the same pace, you have to wait for them to collapse in front of you,” Romans said. “Then you’re a victim of pace. This horse will accelerate. He may be in the back third of the pack but when the jock calls on him he’ll take off, he’s not going to have to wait for them to back up to pass them.”