A fever and subsequent high white blood cell count nixed Nyquist’s participation in the 148th Belmont Stakes, and conversely opened the door for Exaggerator’s favored status before the final jewel of the Triple Crown gets under way June 11 at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
Nyquist, who won the Kentucky Derby and placed at the Preakness Stakes last week, was originally pointing to the Belmont but spiked a fever Monday and blood work reportedly led trainer Doug O’Neill and his team to administer antibiotic treatments that will keep the 3-year-old Uncle Mo colt away from the track.
The unfortunate turn denies horse racing the opportunity of a rubber match between Nyquist and Exaggerator, with the latter finally beating the former for a 3 1/2 lengths Preakness victory after falling short in their four previous meetings.
Thusly, Big Chief Racing’s Exaggerator stands as a massive 7/5 favorite over fellow Belmont contenders Suddenbreakingnews (5/1), Preakness runner-up Cherry Wine (7/1), and Destin (8/1), according to early odds from Sportsbook.ag.
Besides handing Nyquist the first loss of his career after eight straight victories, Exaggerator already has an impressive resume. The Curlin colt took down the Saratoga Special Stakes (Grade 2), the $1,000,000 Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (G3), and the Santa Anita Derby, and after breaking his maiden in June of last year Exaggerator hasn’t finished lower than fourth in 10 of his 11 career starts.
Exaggerator will hope to be the first thoroughbred since Afleet Alex to miss out on the Derby but sweep Triple Crown’s final two races, a feat that’s been accomplished only 11 other times in horse racing history.
But the 1 1/2 mile Belmont, a quarter-mile longer than the Derby, has proven too much for some of the sport’s best horses and the competition is quite stiff for Exaggerator.
For one thing, Suddenbreakingnews was sired by Alfeet Alex, and his jockey, Jeremy Rose, rode his sire to victory at the 2005 Belmont and Preakness.
Cherry Wine, who showed tremendous close-out speed at the Preakness to finish second, also has solid connections. Trainer Dale L. Romans saddled Medal Count for a third-place finish.
And renowned trainer and two-time Belmont victor Todd Pletcher will send out Destin, who slipped to sixth at Churchill Downs but won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3).
A difficult and talented field, as well as the mood of the betting public, could shift Exaggerator’s odds up and or down over the next two-and-a-half weeks. But his chances could also be bolstered or lessened depending on what post he draws.
Odds to Win 2016 Belmont Stakes
Cherry Wine 7/1
Brody’s Cause 12/1
Mo Tom 18/1
Governor Malibu 25/1
Wild About Deb 25/1