A trainer's shedrow can be a revolving door of hope.
When a breakout horse emerges, everyone's spirits spike. But given the fleeting nature of the Thoroughbred business, faith must remain constant that another runner is waiting in the wings when a stable's star steps aside.
Two weeks ago, trainer Keith Desormeaux had to send Texas Red, winner of the 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, to the sideline for the remainder of this season because of a cannon bone bruise.
But nothing fixes a horseman's mood quite like a good 2-year-old in the barn. And Exaggerator, with his boundless energy, could put the Desormeaux crew back on the Breeders' Cup Juvenile path again this season.
Exaggerator is expected to take his next potential step forward in Saturday's Grade I, $500,000 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.
The opening weekend of the 17-day Keeneland Fall Meet has a feel of added importance this season as the boutique track prepares to host the Breeders' Cup World Championships for the first time in its history on Oct. 30-31.
With nine graded stakes, including five Grade I races, set to be contested the first three days of the meet, those who prevail will automatically merit serious discussion of what they could achieve weeks later. Hence, Exaggerator's caretakers love that the winner of the Grade II Saratoga Special last time out is showing no signs of weariness as the weight of expectations increase.
"This horse is just never tired. Every day he is a bundle of energy," Julie Clark, assistant to Desormeaux, said from Churchill Downs shortly after Exaggerator worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 last Saturday. "He's a workout; I always say I get my core exercise with that horse. Texas Red, he just was different mentally (as a 2-year-old). He was more focused where this horse is all over the map; he's still a baby.
"But when he's on the track, it's night and day from in the barn. On the track he turns into a little different horse. Out there, he's the boss."
Exaggerator was one of the main reasons Desormeaux took a string of horses to Saratoga for the first time this summer. While Texas Red delivered his own highlight in taking the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes for the barn, his young stablemate showed grit beyond his years in winning the 61/2-furlong Saratoga Special on Aug. 16 in his third career start.
Seemingly faced with no racing room behind horses at the head of the lane, Exaggerator bulled his way between rivals and collared race favorite Saratoga Mischief with a surge up the inside to prevail by three-quarters of a length.
That effort came less than a month after the son of Curlin broke his maiden second time out going 6 furlongs at Del Mar on July 25. Though he spiked a mild fever shortly after his outing at the Spa, Exaggerator's initial demeanor the day after was that of a horse wanting more.
"I liked that last race," Clark said. "He was at the back of the pack in the early stages then moved up and didn't get rattled sitting behind those horses. Finally I think he got a little impatient with Junior (jockey Alvarado) and said 'Hey, we're going.' So he did show a lot of maturity. And the next day you walk him and you think, 'This thing needs to run again.'"
Two big stakes on Friday's opening day
Saturday's 11⁄16-mile Breeders' Futurity will be Exaggerator's first attempt around two turns. It is the same distance his stablemate Decked Out will be trying for the second time when she faces a field of 10 challengers in Friday's Grade I, $400,000 Darley Alcibiades.
Magdalena Racing's undefeated Dothraki Queen, winner of the Grade II Pocahontas at Churchill Downs in her most recent start, heads the field of 11 2-year-old fillies entered Tuesday for the Alcibiades.
Joining the Alcibiades on Friday's opening-day card is an outstanding edition of the Grade III, $250,000 Phoenix Stakes featuring reigning Breeders' Cup Sprint hero and divisional champion Work All Week as well as Grade I winner Runhappy, who drew post positions No. 12 and 1, respectively.
"If we're inside we'll go, if we're outside we'll stalk. But this horse does have a dimension," said Richard Papiese of Midwest Thoroughbreds, owner of Work All Week. "He's going to get out of the gate and you're going to have to come and hang out with him or try and run him down. It's tough to eyeball him if you want to eyeball him."