The status of Exaggerator for next Saturday’s Grade II, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes is up in the air, after the Preakness winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up received a “C or C-plus” grade for his workout Saturday morning from trainer Keith Desormeaux.
Exaggerator, the beaten favorite in the Belmont Stakes, went to the main track shortly before 9 a.m. with Junior Alvarado aboard and proceeded through a 6-furlong drill in fractions of 24.20, 35.80, 48.20 and 1:13.80, with an unofficial gallop-out in 1:30 for seven-eighths. There was a loose horse on the track as he was completing the work, which did not appear to affect things.
“I asked him a little bit, but he didn’t really gallop out much,” said Alvarado, who rode Exaggerator to victory in last year’s Grade II Saratoga Special before the Curlin colt was paired with Kent Desormeaux. “But he was stretching his legs and I think he did very good. He went good, relaxed, settled, finished up nice.”
Keith Desormeaux was lukewarm about the workout, which had been preceded by a bullet 5 furlongs last Saturday.
“I got him in 1:14, galloped out 1:30, so he slowed up pretty quickly,” Desormeaux said. “He was clipping off 12-and-changes pretty easily the first half, but he slowed down pretty good; he went the last quarter in 25 and change. It wasn’t a perfectly planned work — I wanted the first part of the work to go, like in 13, and finish up, but he was pretty aggressive, and after an eighth or so, Junior did say he settled, so that was good.
“I would have liked to see him finish with more vigor — but that’s okay, sometimes they need a work — that’s his second work over this surface, he worked a minute and change last week … as you can see, as we speak I’m processing what he did last week and this week, and the predominating thought is that he’s not finishing as good as I want him to. Now, as a trainer, is that because he’s not fit enough, or is he struggling with the track?”
Desormeaux, who sent out Texas Red to win last year’s Jim Dandy, is unsure whether Exaggerator will run in that 1 1/8-mile race as well, or perhaps train up to the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers on Aug. 27.
“That’s what I’m going to have to struggle with during the week — off of that work, it doesn’t seem like he’s tight enough, or he’s struggling with the track,” he said. “It’s making me leery on running him in the Jim Dandy — should I give him a couple more works — what’s the rush — the Travers is the real goal. So we’ll see what the next couple of days brings, but there is the chance I might skip the Jim Dandy, because he didn’t finish with the vigor I wanted to see.
“Exaggerator is the type that usually finishes with vigor not only in his works but in his races. I would rate today’s work a C or a C+. It wouldn’t be a problem to train up to the [Travers], but you can’t do in the morning what a race does for a horse. I would much prefer to have the [Jim Dandy] …but what if I got him beat in the Jim Dandy, what would the perception be? I know we’re not supposed to, as horseman, worry about how our horses are trained, but in this horse’s case it’s a little different — I don’t want him to be perceived as not the horse that he is, just because he might not run to par in the Jim Dandy.”
Desormeaux will return to California tomorrow, relying on assistant trainer Julie Clark to brief him on Exaggerator’s progress early next week.
“Very interesting decision here,” said Desormeaux. “We want to do what’s best for the horse. That’s going to lead to the ultimate decision.”