Despite the fog, the rain and an undefeated Kentucky Derby winner to contend with, Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux knew the best route to the Preakness winner's circle with Exaggerator — stay inside and wait.
The rider who started his career in Maryland guided Exaggerator to a 3 1/2-length victory over Cherry Wine in Saturday's $1.5 million Preakness, ending any chance for a Triple Crown follow up after American Pharoah accomplished the rare feat last year. Nyquist finished third.
Just call Pimlico Race Course home track advantage, Desormeaux.
Stride by stride, Exaggerator made up ground along the rail as Nyquist and Uncle Lino dueled for the lead. Desormeaux was watching.
"I had a dream trip," he said. "To me it looked like Nyquist was trying to establish an outward position, maybe in the four path. He was jockeying for position all the way down the back side. And Exaggerator just kind of slid up the fence to the far turn where I actually got to slow him down and say 'whenever I'm ready.'"
He was ready with 3/16ths of a mile to go, and splashed his way past Nyquist to finally beat his nemesis after four losses, including a runner-up finish in the Derby.
"It was an amazing race and Exaggerator is an amazing horse," Desormeaux said.
The day began on a somber note. Two horses died and a jockey was injured in the first four races, one of the horses bred and owned by Gretchen and Roy Jackson — the owners of the ill-fated Barbaro.
It was 10 years ago when Derby winner Barbaro shattered bones in his right hind leg at the start of the Preakness. Seven months later, he was euthanized. The Jacksons' 4-year-old filly Pramedya was euthanized on the track Saturday after she broke down during the fourth race. Jockey Daniel Centeno broke his right collar bone.
Earlier, 9-year-old gelding Homeboykris won the first race, and then collapsed and died while being led back to his barn.
Nyquist was the 3-5 favorite in the 11-horse field, with Exaggerator the second choice at 5-2. But this day was all Exaggerator — no kidding.
The 3-year-old son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin trailed by 13 lengths at one point but kept gaining ground along the rail. Desormeaux saw an opening around the final turn, angled outside and Exaggerator took over.
"I was actually trying to slow him down, asking him to wait," Desormeaux said. "And he just blew up and felt like King Kong. And when I pitched him out, he did what he can do. He exploded."
Stradivari was fourth, followed by Lani, Laoban, Uncle Lino, Fellowship, Awesome Speed, Collected and Abiding Star.
Exaggerator, the 5-2 second choice, returned $7.20, $3.20 and $2.40. Cherry Wine paid $9.80 and $4.20, and Nyquist $2.20 to show. Winning time for the race was 1:58.31.
Nyquist broke well under Mario Gutierrez, and he and 34-1 long shot Uncle Lino went back and forth on the lead. The duel was costly. When asked for his usual winning burst, the son of Uncle Mo just didn't have it for the first time in his career.
"Hats off to Exaggerator and Team Desormeaux. What a great run," Nyquist's trainer Doug O'Neill said. "I didn't think we could get beat, to be honest with you."
Trained by Kent's younger brother, Keith, Exaggerator showed his talent in the slop once again. He won the Santa Anita Derby over a sloppy track. It was the first Preakness winner for the trainer who also began his career in Maryland, and third for the Hall of Fame rider.
Last year, American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, and there were many who thought Nyquist would make it two in a row and become the 13th horse to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
Exaggerator earned $900,000 for the win, improving his career bankroll to $2,971,120. The powerfully built bay colt has won five of 11 starts, with three runner-finishes. He was beaten by Nyquist twice last year — in the debut race for each last June, and then in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. In the 3-year old debuts for each, it was Nyquist by 1 1/2 lengths in the San Vicente.
"I did what I could to get him happy and fresh and strong. I've always said he's had a great ability to recover and he showed it today," Keith Desormeaux said
The Desormeaux brothers have different personalities, and seem to enjoy ribbing each other. There were no family hugs, and no special celebrations.
"I looked at him and he looked at me, and I got a fist pump," Kent said. "That's all we did."
A drenched record crowd of 135,256 saw Exaggerator end his losing streak in a big way.
"It wasn't like we felt we could grind him down," Keith said. "We always felt we had an exceptional talent."
And now, it's on to the Belmont Stakes for Exaggerator.
"We can't wait to run in that race," Keith said.