In an unexpected twist to an already jam-packed slate of weekend racing, Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator is now expected to join Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and graded stakes winner Gun Runner in the starting gate for Sunday’s Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
The addition of Exaggerator to the Haskell lineup means the Jersey Shore will be treated to a rematch of the top three finishers from this year’s Kentucky Derby as Exaggerator was second to champion Nyquist in the first leg of the Triple Crown with Gun Runner third. Such a showdown seemed far from likely in recent weeks as trainer Keith Desormeaux had been pointing Exaggerator toward a start in Saturday’s Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
After Exaggerator worked 6 furlongs in 1:13.87 at Saratoga on Saturday, Desormeaux said he wasn’t satisfied with the way Exaggerator finished and that he would consider training the son of Curlin up to the Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 27.
When reached by the Herald-Leader on Wednesday, Matt Bryan of Big Chief Racing, which co-owns Exaggerator, said they had a change of heart and decided to target the $1 million Haskell going 1 1/8 miles.
“I do believe that is the way we are going,” Bryan said. “That is the plan that we’re going to the Haskell. We’ve just come to the conclusion that if we’re going to try and be the 3-year-old of the year we have to run against the best. So, we have to run against Nyquist there and hopefully in the Travers.”
Exaggerator comes into the Haskell off an 11th-place finish behind Creator in the Belmont Stakes on June 11, the worst finish of his 12-race career.
There is a 60 percent chance of rain in the forecast for the Haskell according to Weather.com, something that would play into the hands of Exaggerator as both his wins in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby and the Preakness Stakes came over an off track. Bryan stated, however, that the forecast did not play a role in the decision to head to Monmouth.
“No, that wasn’t a factor at all,” Bryan said. “Monmouth Park, they really, really wanted us to come and the purse is really good. We think that it’s the best for us to run over there. I think it will be a good track and it will set up good for us. I think it sets up better for us now.”
Exaggerator handed Nyquist the first defeat of his career when he splashed home to a 3½-length triumph in the Preakness Stakes as the Derby hero tired to third. Nyquist, who still holds a 4-1 advantage over Exaggerator in their lifetime meetings, missed the Belmont Stakes after spiking a fever days after his Preakness loss.
Owned by Big Chief Racing, Head of Plains Partners, Rocker O Ranch, et al., Exaggerator has won five of 12 starts and has $2,971,120 in career earnings.