Exaggerator was taking a well-earned snooze at the front of his stall before a strategically placed fan the morning of June 12 at Belmont Park, one day after his Belmont Stakes (gr. I) run went wrong.
The Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner, one of only two horses this year to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown, emerged from an 11th-place finish in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont without much of an excuse, according to trainer Keith Desormeaux. The Louisiana native has decided to blame "Big Sandy" for his runner's finish up the track.
"Yesterday he panted and gasped the air and looked a little fatigued for 45 minutes after the race," Desormeaux said. "I can guarantee the races haven't had the toll on him. He struggled with the track. He gave us his (best) to try to win and it got to him. That's what I'm settling on. I think he didn't get hold of the track as well as he needed to in order to win the race. If it's a mile and a quarter, would he have won? I don't think he was ahead at the quarter pole. It wasn't the distance. It was the fact that he struggled with the track."
Desormeaux assured Exaggerator—who has turned in his best efforts over a sloppy track, including a 6 1/4-length Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) victory—had no physical issues coming out of the Belmont Stakes.
"I usually don't scope them unless I think there's an issue with entrapment or bleeding, but he's never been a bleeder so I didn't worry about it," he said. "He's fine, he ate up, he was vibrant this morning—maybe a little more subdued than normal, but bright-eyed and happy. He stays here with (assistant trainer) Julie (Clark). We'll go light on him for a month or so and then crank him up for Saratoga with tenative plans—maybe the Jim Dandy as a prep for the Travers. We'll see how he likes that surface."
The July 30 Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) could also feature Belmont runner-up Destin, who missed the race to Creator by a nose, and fifth-place finisher Stradivari. Trainer Todd Pletcher said that race and the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) are on the table for both, while Stradivari could also eye a race like the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga.
"I liked the way they both bounced out of it; they cooled out pretty quickly for a demanding mile and a half race," he said, adding a Travers decision would be made depending on how both runners performed next.
Creator may return in the Travers; he heads to WinStar Farm the morning of June 12 for a "mental freshening," trainer Steve Asmussen said. He will also be joined at WinStar by Belmont pacesetter Gettysburg, who faded to eighth after showing the way.
"I'd love for Creator to be at his best for the Travers, but I think we need to do the responsible thing, let him let down a little bit, and then see how he responds," Asmussen said.
Of Gettysburg, he added, "He will go to Winstar for a break. He needs to be rewarded and pampered a bit. He needs a couple days at the spa. He was a valiant horse on the lead. He carried them a long way. He was in front when they came into the stretch."
As far as other Belmont Stakes also-rans are concerned, Japan's Lani entered the New York oval's quarantine barn Sunday morning to begin preparations for his return journey home June 19.
Initially arriving in America April 1—and having competed in every leg of the Triple Crown ending with yesterday's third-place finish in the Belmont off a ninth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and a fifth in the Preakness (gr. I)—Lani came out of the race well according to Kieta Tanaka, agent for owner Koji Maeda.
"We thought he ran a good race and improved along the way, especially here in New York; he really took a liking to the track," Maeda said.
Of fourth-place finisher Governor Malibu, trainer Christophe Clement acknowledged the difficult trip the colt encountered racing along the rail the majority of the way, but remained pleased with his ability to be competitive in graded stakes-level competition.
"So far, so good," added Clement. "I thought he ran a really good race. I will call it no racing luck from the quarter pole on. The pacemaker (Gettysburg) was all over the place. (Jockey Joel) Rosario had to check twice but he ran a really strong race and showed that he really belongs with them."
Trainer Donnie Von Hemel reported that ninth-place finisher Suddenbreakingnews came back with some cuts on his hind pasterns; the second wagering choice in the Belmont at 5-1, Suddenbreakingnews, who finished a fast-closing fifth in the Kentucky Derby, raced wide before fading in the stretch to finish 9 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
"It looks like he's OK, but he had several hit marks on both hind pasterns from what we call a horse 'hitting,' which is unusual for him," Von Hemel said. "I think he was really struggling with the track and never got comfortable enough to do what we think he can do. I know excuses are a dime a dozen, but that's best we can do.
"Otherwise he looks happy and healthy. We'll keep (those cuts) clean and keep antibiotic ointment on them, and he'll heal right up. He flies out on Monday back to Kentucky and Churchill Downs; there are really no plans as of yet for what we'll do with him next."
Trainer Dallas Stewart, reached by phone as he was about to board a plane, said both 12th-place finisher Seeking the Soul and last-place runner Forever d'Oro "look fine so far" and will ship back to Churchill as well.