The top three finishers from the Kentucky Derby held a rematch on a sloppy track at Monmouth Park in the Haskell Invitational — but it was the Preakness winner who took the day.
Though only six horses, the field for the 2016 Haskell Invitational at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park was loaded: the top three finishers from the Kentucky Derby were present (Nyquist, Exaggerator and Gun Runner), one of which won the Preakness (Exaggerator), as well as American Freedom, trained by eight-time Haskell winner Bob Baffert. The field was rounded out by two horses with local New Jersey connections: Sunny Ridge and Awesome Slew.
Nyquist, fresh off a break at his home base in California, went off as the favorite, though Exaggerator was a closely-following second choice. As rain scrubbed Monmouth, transforming the track into a sloppy mess, some may have felt the sensation of deja vu, an echo of the Preakness Stakes earlier in the spring.
If they weren’t feeling it as the field loaded into the gate, they may have been feeling it as the horses flashed under the wire:
Nyquist, in characteristic style, set a blazing pace as he dueled American Freedom through the first turn and into the backstretch, stalked by Awesome Slew and Gun Runner. Exaggerator was a mere shadow, trailing the field by as many as seven lengths through the first turn.
However, on the backstretch, Exaggerator pounced, motoring his way through the field, picking off Sunny Ridge, then Awesome Slew, setting his sights on the leading pack as Gun Runner moved forward to challenge the leaders. Around the turn, Exaggerator swept to the outside, cruising four-wide for a few strides until Gun Runner folded.
For an instant, Nyquist, American Freedom and Exaggerator were stride-for-stride — and then Exaggerator opened into another gear, putting them all away. Credit should also be given to American Freedom, who fought on gamely for second, and Sunny Ridge, who got up for third. Nyquist faded to fourth at the finish.
There should be little doubt now after this echo of the Preakness that Exaggerator, owned by Big Chief Racing and partners, trained by Keith Desormeaux and piloted by Kent Desormeaux, has proven to be one of the best horses of his year on off tracks.
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