Exaggerator Searching For an Identity

There is an old expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” which is defined by Dictionary.com as: “An expression used of someone who is too involved in the details of a problem to look at the situation as a whole.”

Urban Dictionary put it best: “Simply that you have focused on the many details and have failed to see the overall view, impression or key point.”

The more Exaggerator races and wins the more the overall picture of his talents become obscured by the fact that they have all been on sloppy tracks. We can’t see the overall view because we are concentrating on that one aspect of his victories.

That is excusable because we simply cannot form an objective opinion of his true talents due to all those “trees” blocking our view.

There no doubt is a very talented horse lying behind the façade of the mud lover who has been blessed by Mother Nature like no other horse in memory and is on the threshold of the 3-year-old championship despite not having won a race on a fast track since last August. Unfortunately, no one has been able to see that talented horse through all the mud-soaked goggles.

Exaggerator has been a terror on a sloppy or muddy track, winning an unprecedented four million-dollar races – the Delta Jackpot, Santa Anita Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Haskell Invitational. Never before has a horse accumulated such a wealth of riches skipping through the mud.

And not only has he benefited from the wet surfaces, but from the pace setups as well. His main rival, Nyquist, defeated him four times on a fast track, including the Kentucky Derby, before going on speed-crazy binges over sloppy tracks in the Preakness and Haskell, in which he went head and head in swift fractions over tracks he did not seem to relish. It was those two races that could very well cost Nyquist the championship he seemed to have in his back pocket following the Kentucky Derby.

Some may point to Exaggerator’s fast-closing second to Nyquist at Churchill Downs run over a fast track to deduce he is just as good on dry ground. The only problem there is that there was a monsoon shortly before the running of the Derby that left the track with standing water on several spots and a good deal of moisture throughout. The last time Exaggerator won on a pure fast track was August 16 of last year when he captured the Saratoga Special. And most important, the last time he raced on a fast track, he finished an ignominious 11th, beaten over 14 lengths, in the Belmont Stakes.

So, just who is Exaggerator and how good is he? You can either call him incredibly lucky for catching so many sloppy tracks or you can look past the trees and see the entire forest. We don’t even know what his natural running style is. A one-time stalker who appeared to be one-paced suddenly was transformed into a totally different animal early this year, dropping far back in his races and making either one devastating move or several moves, displaying a newly found rapid-fire acceleration. When he reverted back to his old style on a fast track in the Belmont Stakes, you needed a telescope to find him at the finish.

If you ignore all the individual brush strokes and see the painting as a whole, there is a very good chance you will see an exceptionally talented horse whose reputation has been tarnished in a way by his own good fortune. He has become the typical “riddle wrapped up in an enigma.”

Is he really as good as he looked blowing by his opponents in the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, and Haskell? Is he really as bad as he looked retreating in the Belmont Stakes like a terrified soldier in battle? Did the Preakness and Haskell victories in the slop prove him to be better than Nyquist or did Nyquist’s four previous victories over his rival on fast tracks prove him to be better than Exaggerator?

Unfortunately, as of now it looks as if we won’t find out in the Travers Stakes, as Nyquist has returned home to the land of sunny skies and fast tracks, while Exaggerator is at Saratoga waiting to see if one of those infamous Adirondack storms has his name on it and will target the Spa on Aug. 27, keeping the mystery and run of good fortune alive.

You can bet Doug O’Neill and Paul Reddam will be chomping at the bit waiting for the Breeders’ Cup over the track where Nyquist handed Exaggerator a pair of defeats. But if Exaggerator should add the Travers to his list of triumphs, especially on a fast track, it will take something extraordinary to deprive him the 3-year-old championship.

If the dark clouds smile down on Exaggerator once again at Saratoga and he splashes home in the Travers and eventually takes home the Eclipse Award, he most definitely would be the most enigmatic champion seen in many years; a horse without an identity whose true talents will remain unknown until he proves himself as proficient on a fast track as he has in the slop.

First we heard rumblings that he didn’t like the sandy surface in the Belmont. Then we were told he didn’t care for Saratoga when he reportedly worked poorly over the track, even though he won the Saratoga Special there last year. It was then announced he would not run in the Jim Dandy as originally planned and would be given more time and train up to the Travers, which would seem to have no bearing on Saratoga considering they are both run at the same track. Just as quickly, it was announced he would run in the Haskell the following day. Was it because trainer Keith Desormeaux heard the weather forecast for the Jersey Shore and started licking his chops? Whatever the reason, it just added to the perplexity that is Exaggerator.

One would like to believe the horse we saw win all those million-dollar races and finish second in the Kentucky Derby was the real Exaggerator and that he simply is a very good horse who just happened to have an off day in the Belmont Stakes. We would like to believe he would have beaten Nyquist in the Preakness and Haskell even on fast tracks. But the truth is, we have no idea.

For Exaggerator, the Travers cry will be twofold: “Pray for Rain” and “Pray for Reign.”

Let’s hope the former doesn’t dictate the latter again come Aug. 27.


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