But all that mattered to elder brother Keith was that Exaggerator captured the middle leg of the Triple Crown by 31/2 lengths over Cherry Wine, ridden by Lafayette native Corey Lanerie.
Previously unbeaten Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist finished a nose back in third, his Triple Crown hopes dashed before an announced Pimlico Race Course record crowd of 135,256.
“I haven’t thought about my brother one time,” Keith, who at 49 is three years older than Kent, said during the infield winner’s circle presentation. “I’ve thought about Exaggerator and his second Grade I win. I’ve thought about WinStar (the farm where Exaggerator eventually will go to stud) getting on board and enjoying the ride with us. I’m going to think about a beer in a while. And then I might get to him later.”
It was the first victory in the Triple Crown for Keith Desormeaux and the third in the Preakness for Kent, the Hall of Fame jockey who has won the Kentucky Derby three times and the Belmont once. The Desormeaux brothers — already the first to team to win a Breeders’ Cup race, with Texas Red in the 2014 Juvenile — grew up in Maurice but really launched their racing careers in Maryland.
Still, the big thing to them was that Exaggerator, son of 2007 Preakness winner and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, finally beat Nyquist after four defeats.
“Exaggerator is an amazing horse,” Kent Desormeaux said. “And I’m glad my brother didn’t have to think about me. All he had to worry about was Exaggerator.”
Exaggerator had proved a superior horse on a wet track, winning the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot to end his 2-year-old season and the $1 million, Grade I Santa Anita Derby in his last start before the Kentucky Derby. Keith Desormeaux had insisted mud didn’t move up his horse, but rather he was a top horse and didn’t let it bother him.
In fact, he said Friday, “I want to get my picture taken in the sun.”
But mud was just fine for the winners on a gloomy day at Pimlico, where it never rained hard but intermittent showers left everything soggy. Bedlam broke out on the soggy Pimlico turf course as the parties of owners Matt Bryan, Sol Kumin and Ronnie Ortowski hugged each other almost in disbelief.
Exaggerator broke from post 5, but Kent Desormeaux sent him to the rail that his competition seemed to studiously avoid. With Uncle Lino and Nyquist battling through a stiff first quarter-mile in 22.38 seconds and half-mile in 46.56, Exaggerator settled into eighth through the first half-mile. But Kent Desormeaux began picking up the pace into the far turn, passing horses before angling Exaggerator to the outside heading into the stretch.
“I noticed that everybody in front of me was, instead of moving toward the fence, moving out,” said Kent Desormeaux, who in his three full years based in Maryland won 450, 471 and a record 598 races. “I made a 90-degree turn to get to the fence. … I was able to let him just inch forward and let him just gain to the leaders slowly and quietly. … From the three-eighths to the quarter pole, I was actually slowing him down, asking him to wait. He just blew up and felt like King Kong.”
Desormeaux’s monster passed Nyquist in the upper stretch, and it was a matter of who would be second. The Dale Romans-trained 17-1 shot Cherry Wine, near-last for much of the race, swept up the rail, still 51/2 lengths behind the surging Exaggerator in mid-stretch but making up the four lengths it took to nail Nyquist and make it a Cajun rider exacta.
The time for 13?16 miles over a track rated sloppy was 1 minute, 58.31 seconds, with Exaggerator paying $7.20 to win as the second choice in the field of 11 3-year-olds.
Afterward, Lanerie, who previously rode Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson's Mo Tom in the Kentucky Derby, came up to shake Keith Desormeaux’s hand: “Coon-ass double," he said. "Congratulations.”
“Second? Oh, you beat him for second?” the trainer responded. “Awesome.”
Said Romans: “I’m proud of my horse, proud of the jockey. 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.”
Doug O’Neill, trainer of Nyquist, wouldn’t speculate whether the slop impacted the favorite ridden by Mario Gutierrez.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Hats off to Exaggerator and team Desormeaux. 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.”
Exaggerator, who cost a modest $110,000 as a yearling, is 5-3-1 in 11 starts, earning $2,971,120 with the $900,000 payday in the $1.5 million Preakness.
“What I’m feeling now is just an awesome confirmation of a lifetime of dedicating myself to finding and getting the best out of a horse,” said Keith Desormeaux, whose career has had a far slower trajectory than his brother’s, with Texas Red his first Grade I winner. “And also huge gratification to the man who entrusted me with that confidence, Matt Bryan.”
Asked about the partying in Maurice on Saturday night, Keith Desormeaux surmised, “I bet there’s some crawfish losing their lives. And they’re all trying to figure out what it means to win an American classic. They might have to look it up over there. I can tell you, it’s a good thing, though.”