Keith Desormeaux isn't the kind of trainer who cranks hard and fast on his horses on in the morning - which is 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 five furlong move in :59 2/5 during a rainy morning at Keeneland on Saturday.
Like many horseman, 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 Keeneland main track. At around 7 a.m., Desormeaux went forward and sent the winner of the Grade II Saratoga Special on August 16 out to work in company.
The workmate didn't provide much resistance, however, as Exaggerator started five lengths back but finished up about 10 length in front posting splits of :12 1/5, :24 1/5, :36, 5f in :59 2/5, out in 1:13 3/5.
"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.
"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 October 3. Desmormeaux was still thrilled with that run as the son of Curlin had actually missed a couple of weeks of training after 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 on 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 Hall of Famer 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."