(Reuters) - Exaggerator ended any Triple Crown suspense at this year's Belmont Stakes by handing Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist his first career loss at the Preakness, but the dark bay colt has more to prove in Saturday's $1.5 million race.
Exaggerator, the 9-5 early favorite for the 148th Belmont, is primed to underline his prowess in the finale of the classic series for three-year-old thoroughbreds.
"You couldn't get him any better than he is now. He's very sound, he's very fresh. He seems very confident," trainer Keith Desormeaux told reporters after Exaggerator's walk on a sunny but blustery cool Thursday at Belmont Park.
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"I talk about his antics and his energy all the time but it's controlled energy. It's not nervous. He's very confident and he should be sitting on a huge race."
The son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin will start from post 11 in a 13-horse field for the 1-1/2 mile race, with second choice Stradivari (5-1) starting from the fifth gate and third pick Destin (6-1) starting from post two.
Stradivari and Destin are both trained by Todd Pletcher.
Missing from the field is Nyquist, who came out of his third-place finish in the Preakness with a fever and elevated white blood cell count that led to a decision to skip the Belmont.
Desormeaux was unconcerned about starting so far outside in the one-lap race despite the short run to the first turn.
The starting gate is positioned at the finish line for the Belmont just three-sixteenths of a mile from the clubhouse turn.Only Brody's Cause (20-1) and Arkansas Derby winner Creator (10-1) start outside of Exaggerator, a strong finisher.
"Just because it's a little shorter run into the first turn here, it seems it would be a disadvantage to be on the outside," Desormeaux acknowledged.
"If I had a speed horse, I'd be worried. But Exaggerator breaks, drops the bit and relaxes so he should have plenty of opportunity to drop in closer to the rail going into that first turn."
Desormeaux's optimism is further fueled by confidence in his jockey, Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, the trainer's younger brother who won the 2009 Belmont aboard Summer Bird among seven Triple Crown race victories.
"The more experienced, the more tactical hands you can have has got to be for the better, and I think I've got a pretty good jockey," Keith Desormeaux said.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)