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Nyquist and Exaggerator will take their rivalry to the Belmont Stakes

Exaggerator, Nyquist

Exaggerator (5) overtakes Nyquist (3) coming out of the last turn during the 141st Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. 

(Emma Patti Harris / Baltimore Sun)

Horse racing was hoping for another Triple Crown winner; instead it got itself an honest-to-goodness rivalry.

Just when everyone thought that Nyquist, after suffering the first loss of his career in nine starts, was going to take a little time to recover, trainer Doug O’Neill said he is taking the horse to New York to run in the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.

There he will run against Exaggerator, the colt that beat the Kentucky Derby winner on Saturday in the Preakness Stakes.

“I think it’s safe to say it’s a rivalry because these two are very, very close in ability,” O’Neill said after flying back to Los Angeles on Sunday. “Now that no one is going to sweep the Triple Crown, this is the rubber match. It’s a very intriguing race.”

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The rivalry between these horses is not restricted to the Triple Crown.

The Preakness was the first time in five tries that Exaggerator has beaten Nyquist. The son of Uncle Mo beat the offspring of Curlin in a maiden race last June at Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, along with the San Vicente and Kentucky Derby this year.

“The whole plan was to hit the Triple Crown races, which is why we intentionally raced him lightly [this year],” O’Neill said.

Nyquist ran only twice before the Kentucky Derby, once in the San Vicente at Santa Anita and again at the Florida Derby, where he beat previously unbeaten Mohaymen.

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Exaggerator ran three times before the Kentucky Derby, including a striking win in the Santa Anita Derby over a muddy track.

O’Neill attributed Saturday’s loss to two factors.

“The track was kind of sticky and heavy,” O’Neill said. “The track we won over in Florida and Kentucky were more wet fast.”

As for the second reason, O’Neill lived up to his reputation as one of those textbook bosses who always pass credit and absorb blame.

“Our strategy backfired and that’s mostly on me,” O’Neill said. “My level of confidence was so high that my instructions to [jockey] Mario [Gutierrez] was to take it to them. Don’t take any chances, even if it means being in front. … It wasn’t Mario, it was me and it backfired.”

The fast early fractions may have eventually done in Nyquist, although Exaggerator may still have won after his spectacular trip and stretch drive.

“If we could do it all over again, we would have been much more patient and rode in a more conservative way to save more for the end,” O’Neill said.

Nyquist will van to New York on Monday while Exaggerator will go no earlier than Wednesday, and more likely on Sunday. Keith Desormeaux, Exaggerator’s trainer, doesn’t like to upset a horse’s routine.

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Exaggerator probably will be the betting favorite at the Belmont, despite Nyquist’s previous dominance over the horse. Desormeaux’s colt seems more suited to the 1 ½-mile distance of the Belmont Stakes than Nyquist.

“The most important thing is this horse’s ability to recover,” Desormeaux said. “When he pulled up in the winner’s circle [Saturday], he was already cooled out. His heart rate was down. His respiratory rate was almost normal and you could see calm in his eyes.

“Most horses when they run that huge effort, they’re bug-eyed and rattled and sweated up. He was totally calm.”

Desormeaux is charming with the media but prefers it in small doses.

On Sunday morning, he was willing to play along with a joking question as to whether he should take his brother, Hall of Fame jockey Kent, off the horse.

“I’m thinking about giving somebody else a chance,” Desormeaux said. “He’s won so many of these things, he’s getting a little greedy. Maybe, I’ll get Calvin [Borel] out of retirement.

The Belmont is shaping up to be one of the more fascinating races, especially if you consider these horses will never run this distance on the dirt again.

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Horses that are likely starters include Cherry Wine, who nosed Nyquist for second, and Lani, who has run both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Brody’s Cause, a stablemate of Cherry Wine’s and trained by Dale Romans, is set to come back after a seventh-place finish in the Derby.

There is also Suddenbreakingnews, who was fifth in the Derby, and Destin, who was sixth.

john.cherwa@latimes.com

Twitter: @jcherwa


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