Exaggerator is one of just two iron horses in this field - he was second in the Kentucky Derby and took a step up the podium with a very impressive Preakness win. Now he is looking to cap the Triple Crown season with a second Triple Crown win - a victory that would put him in the driver's seat for three year old of the year honors. His biggest foe is on the sideline recovering, but several horses that weren't good enough in the Derby are back to prove they can be better here. Is Exaggerator up to the challenge?
Last race: You can't come into the Belmont Stakes any better than Exaggerator is - he just won the Preakness, Not only did he win it impressively, but he also handed Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist the first loss of his impressive career. Things came up perfectly for Exaggerator in the Preakness. He likes off tracks, and heavy rain had created a sloppy track on the day. He likes to come from off the pace, which is easier when there is a brisk earlier pace. Nyquist obliged by running the fastest first quarter in Preakness history. I don't want to make it sound like his was a fluky win of circumstance, though. He was a very good horse who had tangled too many times with Nyquist, and he finally got the edge in a very well-run race. He is a very deserving and fitting Triple Crown race winner.
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Career highlights: Aside from the Preakness, the high point was the Santa Anita Derby. Again benefitting from a sloppy track that he handled far better than the others, he settled well off the pace early, exploded around the final turn and won by seven lengths. Next time out he was a very solid second in the Kentucky Derby - not as good as Nyquist on the day but clearly second best in the deep field. Overall, he is an impressively experienced horse. He has 20 career starts, with nine coming in graded stakes. The Preakness was the fourth win against the highest level of company, and in the nine races he has three seconds, a third and a fourth - with the latter coming in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. There is no doubt at this point about how he measures up against the best of his class.
Jockey: Kent Desormeaux has been on for all but one mount, and you can be certain he'll be there again if it is in his control. Desormeaux has had a mixed history on top horses in this race. In 2009 he won it aboard Summer Bird with what was close to a perfectly-ridden race. He has experienced real heartbreak, too, though. In 1998 he was just strides away from winning a Triple Crown with Real Quiet, but Victory Gallop nipped him by a nose at the wire. In 2008 he was aboard a seeming stone-cold lock in Big Brown, again seeking a Triple Crown. Nothing went right for the horse, and Desormeaux eventually pulled him up in the stretch when it was clear he wasn't into racing on the day. Desormeaux had gone through some dark years in his career of late, but he has been on a resurgence lately, with this horse one of the driving forces of that return to consistent competence.
Trainer: Kent's older brother Keith is the trainer. The elder Desormeaux has been training on his own since the early 1990's but has only broken into the big time in recent years - most notably before this horse by winning the 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Texas Red. He knows his stuff, and his first Triple Crown race win may not be his last.
Pedigree: Exaggerator is a son of the great Curlin. After also winning the Preakness in 2007, Curlin was the favorite in the Belmont. He locked in a truly epic stretch duel with legendary filly Rags to Riches, and the fresher horse was better by a neck. Still, winning the Preakness, finishing third in the Derby and second in the Belmont - and then winning the Breeders' Cup Classic and the Dubai World Cup - leaves no doubt that Curlin had all sorts of stamina to pass on to his son. Exaggerator's damsire Vindication, who is a son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 2002 but was injured before he could race again. Add it all up and the distance isn't a particular concern for this horse.
Running style: He generally likes to be well off the pace early on before closing late. He has shown some versatility through his career, though, and isn't the one-dimensional deep closer that some are in this field. He has successfully run both on and close to the lead and may find himself closer to the lead than usual early on here because of the lack of true early speed.
Belmont outlook: At 10/11 at Bovada he is clearly the heavy favorite to win this race - Suddenbreakingnews is the current second choice, but far behind at 6/1. There is little doubt that he is the best and most accomplished horse in the field, and it's his race to lose. Favorites have struggled at times here, though, so don't start counting your cash just yet. He is absolutely capable of the win.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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