His time on the Belmont Park apron Tuesday morning began with a media relations reminder that Kent Desormeaux was there to take questions about Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator and his prospects for the final leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday, nothing more. And though the Hall of Fame jockey did end up making a brief statement regarding his recent decision to enter an alcohol rehabilitation program, it was the non-verbal cues that spoke loudest about where things stand in his brilliant yet tumultuous world.
Several times during the nearly 15 minutes the two held court together, trainer Keith Desormeaux reached over to put a firm hand on his younger brother’s shoulder. As they discussed the 5-furlong move Kent Desormeaux guided his brother’s trainee through in his final major workout before Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, there was playful banter only siblings can fully appreciate with Keith playing the role of both de facto interviewer and dead-serious horseman who wants to know that everything is going just right.
“He had good energy,” the younger Desormeaux quipped of Exaggerator.
“Was he stronger?” big brother asked.
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“Lots of fluidity,” was the retort.
“I prefer him to be stronger.”
“No, he was the same.”
“Well that’s a good thing for him to be the same after two races in four weeks.”
Kent Desormeaux’s world, however, is radically different than it has been in some while. Last week, the 46-year-old Louisiana native entered rehab at Cirque Lodge in Sundance, Utah, confronting demons that have hung over his legacy for years.
That decision came just more than a week after what was framed by many as a career high point. Giving the same kind of heady ride that has made him one of the great raw talents in the saddle, Kent Desormeaux piloted Exaggerator to a 3½-length victory in the Preakness Stakes, making the Desormeaux brothers the first siblings to win the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Though he didn’t say what specifically prompted him to finally address his problems head-on, Kent Desormeaux did say his motivation was doing right by his family.
“I think that my brother, mostly my wife and my family, have supported me through all the years,” he said. “And it was my turn to say thank you.”
Smiling and shaking hands on his way to the microphone Tuesday, Kent Desormeaux had a clear-eyed determination about him. His history of alcohol-related problems includes a failed breathalyzer test at Belmont Park in 2012 that ended up costing him the mount on Tiger Walk in that year’s Preakness Stakes and aboard Grade I winner Dullahan in the 2012 Belmont.
He also failed a breathalyzer at Woodbine in 2010 and one at Del Mar last July.
That Keith Desormeaux still trusts his brother to handle the most successful horse he has ever conditioned is just one example of his faith in his sibling.
As they departed the media scrum, Keith Desormeaux reassuredly took hold of his brother’s shoulders and gave his most important assessment of the morning’s activities.
“He’s different. I’m telling you,” Keith Desormeaux said grinning. “He’s breathing. He’s answering. He’s good. It’s clean living, boys.”
Exaggerator works with ease
In his first serious workout since before his runner-up effort to champion Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby, Exaggerator covered 5 furlongs in 1:00 4/5 Tuesday.
Keith Desormeaux has repeatedly cited Exaggerator’s boundless energy and quick recovery time as the intangibles that have allowed his charge to keep upping his game as he readies for what will be his sixth start this year. Kent Desormeaux seconded that notion Tuesday, saying that the multiple Grade I winner barely seemed to exert himself.
“The critical thing about the work is how quick ... his recovery was,” said Kent Desormeaux, who won the 2009 Belmont Stakes aboard Summer Bird. “His recovery was 20 feet. He took a deep breath, I turned him around and he sucked some air in and just walked home like he had just been stall walking, stable walking.”
When: 6:32 p.m.
Where: Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
Potential field: Brody’s Cause, Cherry Wine, Creator, Destin, Exaggerator, Forever d’Oro, Gettysburg, Governor Malibu, Lani, Seeking the Soul, Stradivari, Suddenbreakingnews, Trojan Nation.