CRAWFORD | Exaggerator splashes past Nyquist; hope of Triple Cro - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Exaggerator splashes past Nyquist; hope of Triple Crown sequel sinks in the Preakness slop

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Exaggerator beats Nyquist (3) and Cherry Wine to the wire in the Preakness Stakes. (AP photo) Exaggerator beats Nyquist (3) and Cherry Wine to the wire in the Preakness Stakes. (AP photo)

BALTIMORE (WDRB) -- Horse racing's extended Triple Crown party came to a muddy halt in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.

After an extended celebration of American Pharoah's Triple Crown run that broke a 37-year drought in 2015, the sport's hope of a sequel sank in the slop at Pimlico, where Exaggerator caught Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist in the stretch and splashed home for a 3 1/2-length victory over second-place Cherry Wine. Nyquist held on for third.

It will be the first time since 2013 that a Triple Crown won't be in the balance when the Belmont Stakes is run in three weeks.

The disappointment started early on Saturday. Race No. 1 at Pimlico was won by Homeboykris, a 9-year-old gelding who finished 16th in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. But on the way back from his winner's circle picture, the horse collapsed and died. Three races later, 4-year-old filly Pramedya suffered a left-front mid-cannon bone fracture, and was euthanized on the track.

The fatalities -- though not acknowledged by Pimlico on its official Twitter feeds or by news release -- subdued the proceedings moving forward, and a steady rain that grew heavier toward the Preakness post time soaked them.

It was but a small damper, however, on the excitement of Exaggerator's connections. In the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Desormeaux brothers shined. Trainer Keith Desormeaux brought his first horse to the race after running second in the Kentucky Derby. Jockey Kent Desormeaux entered the race with two Preakness wins and more starts in the race (13) than the rest of the jockeys combined.

What ensued was a clinic by the Hall of Fame rider. While Nyquist engaged two other horses in a speed duel that drifted toward the middle of the track, Desormeaux took Exaggerator to clear ground inside, then watched.

"I was on the fence and they all stayed wide," Desormeaux told NBC's Donna Brothers immediately after the win. "These turns, you want to paint the fence. We did. They didn't. And not for nothing, knowledge is power."

Up in the grandstand, Keith Desormeaux didn't share that confidence.

"I wanted to strangle him when I saw him go to the rail," Keith Desormeaux said. "I was, like, 'This was the only race you rode today. All these other jockeys realize it's a quagmire down the rail.' I was, like, 'What's he doing.'"

Just at that moment in the post-race news conference, the younger brother leaned into the microphone and sang a chorus from a popular song by Flo-Rida: "Welcome to my house."

The room broke into laughter.

As the race progressed, Keith Desormeaux appreciated the shrewdness of his brother's ride.

"Hey, those kinds of decisions are why he's in the Hall of Fame. But post-strangulation, I started worrying, 'Why in the world is he so close to the lead.' By the far turn, we were already just three or four lengths off, and I looked over at my girlfriend and said, 'I hope he's not asking him to be there.' In other words, I hope the horse has done all of this on his own. And obviously he had, because when Kent asked him he had more than enough."

For Nyquist's trainer, Doug O'Neill, there was a bit of shock, but no excuses. Nyquist came into the race 8-0 and had won over a sloppy track in the Florida Derby.

"Hats off to Exaggerator and Team Desormeaux," O'Neill said. "What a great run. I didn’t think we could get beat, to be honest with you. Nyquist is such an amazing horse and he still ran a great race. We’ll kind of figure this all out, watch some replays. I didn’t get a chance to talk with Mario. Nyquist still ran a huge race."

O'Neill said he's not sure whether Nyquist will move on to the Belmont. He said he'll talk with owner J. Paul Reddam and they'll decide what is best.

"It’s a bummer, of course," O'Neill said. "Our horse, God, he’s such an amazing horse. I can’t wait to see him in a little bit, give him a big kiss and a pat on the head because he’s still a winner in our book. They’re not machines. Being 8-for-8, we kept thinking that this horse is never going to lose, but they all lose any one time or another."

O'Neill defended his jockey's strategy of going to the front right out of the gate.

"We just wanted a clean trip," O'Neill said. "We thought we had the best horse and wanted to ride him like the best horse and not try to get too cute and get perfect positioning. Him going fast early was really my idea, thinking ‘he’s the best horse, take it to them.' If we’re going to get beat, let’s get beat being aggressive and not trying to get cute and get in trouble.”

Dale Romans, trainer of Cherry Wine, finished a fantastic weekend at Old Hilltop. He had fillies run 1-2 in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday afternoon.

"I’m proud of my horse, proud of the jockey," Romans said. "Exaggerator looked great all week and Keith did a good job with him. It’s a special thing, two brothers in a classic like this.... That’s the special thing about the sport, it proves it’s a family affair."

Early Saturday afternoon, an anonymous better placed an $80,000 win bet on Todd Pletcher's Stradivari, a lightly-raced colt who had won his last two races by a combined 25 length, but was making a big step up in class in the Preakness. He wound up the third betting choice, and finished fourth.

As the Desormeaux party raged on, heading out of the press tent, horse racing now will get back to life as usual, perhaps with the realization of how special what happened with American Pharoah last year really was, and how fragile those moments can be -- both on and off the track.

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