Keith Desormeaux isn't the kind of trainer who cranks hard and fast on his horses in the morning — precisely why the veteran conditioner was falling over himself as he talked about the easy manner in which his Breeders' Cup Juvenile contender Exaggerator sizzled through a 5-furlong move in :59.60 during a rainy morning at Keeneland on Saturday.
Like many horsemen, Desormeaux was watching the weather in deciding when he was going to send his charge out for his final piece of serious work over the main track. At around 7 a.m., Desormeaux went forward and sent the winner of the Grade II Saratoga Special on Aug. 16 out to work in company.
The workmate didn't provide much resistance, however, as Exaggerator started 5 lengths back but finished up about 10 lengths in front posting splits of :12.20, :24.20, :36, :59.60 and out 6 furlongs in 1:13.60.
"We were stressed out about the rain, I can tell you that, so we got him out early," said Desormeaux, who won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Texas Red. "We got lucky, the track was great at 7 a.m. But it was a spectacular work. He was nice and settled the first part of it, finished the last quarter in 23 and change, galloped out great.
Never miss a local story.
"I'm not really known for working my horses really quick. So to see a nice, quick work a good week out tells me he's ready. He came back to the barn not exhausted, caught his breath quickly. It was an exceptional work."
Owned by Big Chief Racing, Exaggerator is coming into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile off a second-place finish to Brody's Cause in the Grade I Breeders Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 3. Desmormeaux was still thrilled with that run as the son of Curlin had missed a couple of weeks of training following the Saratoga Special after spiking a fever.
"He had some less-than-spectacular works coming into that race (the Breeders Futurity) and that was also his first trip around two turns," Desormeaux said. "That was also a seven-week interim between the Saratoga Special and he actually missed two weeks because of a fever. So for that horse to run that well in the Breeders Futurity and then come back and do this today, we've got to be confident."
Exaggerator broke his maiden second time out at Del Mar July 25 and delivered a gritty run in the Saratoga Special to win by three-quarters of a length. Desormeaux is seeking to become the first trainer to win consecutive editions of the race since D. Wayne Lukas saddled three straight Juvenile winners from 1986 to 1988.
"It wasn't exciting or fun until now," Desormeaux laughed. "That was the last work and this rain was driving me nuts. So to get to this point and have a legitimate chance again in the best race for 2-year-olds in North America is pretty awesome."
Navarro wanted more from Private Zone's workout
When word circulated that Keeneland's main track would be sealed during Saturday's renovation break because of the rainy weather, trainer Jorge Navarro called an audible and sent multiple Grade I winner Private Zone out for his 4-furlong move a bit early.
Navarro ended up not totally satisfied with the end result as Private Zone, one of the likely favorites for the Breeders' Cup Sprint on Oct. 31, worked a half-mile in 48.60 over a track that exercise rider Carlos Marquez termed "heavy."
Private Zone recorded splits of :12.80, :35.80, :48.60 and out five-eighths in 1:03.60. The move was the 11th fastest of 27 at the distance and, for a horse capable of ripping off moves in 45 and change, Navarro was hoping to see a little more.
"I was expecting a little faster," Navarro said. "But he did it so easy. He's ready. I just think going into this race I wanted to get a little more, but luck was not on my side.
"As soon as they said 'sealed the track,' I knew I wasn't going to work him on a sealed track. But Carlos is on top and he knows him really well so he told me 'don't worry about it, the horse is doing really good.' They're still going to have to bring King Kong to beat him."
Private Zone is expected to vie for favoritism in the Sprint with 3-year-old Grade I winner Runhappy. The 6-year-old son of Macho Uno was third in the Sprint a year ago and has won three of his five starts this year, including the Grade I Forego at Saratoga on Aug. 29.
Also working for the Sprint was Katherine Ball's Limousine Liberal, who covered a half-mile in :46.40 for trainer Ben Colebrook.
Distaff contenders work
Grade I winners I'm a Chatterbox and Stopchargingmaria, both expected to start in the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 30, were among the slate of workers in damp conditions Saturday.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Stopchargingmaria worked in company, covering 4 furlongs in 47 flat. I'm a Chatterbox, who is trained by Larry Jones, worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.40 with jockey Florent Geroux up.
Keen Ice works at Churchill
Donegal Racing's Keen Ice, who defeated Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Grade I Travers Stakes, put in his final drill for the Breeders' Cup Classic when he worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Dale Romans, Keen Ice will likely be ridden in the Classic by Irad Ortiz Jr. although that assignment is still being finalized. Romans also sent Grade I Breeders Futurity winner Brody's Cause through a 5-furlong move in 1:00.80.