OCEANPORT, N.J. >> Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist wasn't on his game for the $1 million Haskell Invitational. Preakness winner Exaggerator was.
Charging into the lead over a sloppy track, Exaggerator pulled off another victory over Nyquist and staked his claim as the leading 3-year-old colt in the country.
"We're just so proud of him," trainer Keith Desormeaux's assistant Julie Clark said. "There was such anxiety as they came around the turn. To see him accelerate and pull away was awesome."
Ten weeks ago in the slop at the Preakness, Exaggerator handed Nyquist his first loss and ended any chance of a Triple Crown repeat. Now, Nyquist has lost two in a row after winning his first eight races, and Exaggerator atoned for an 11th-place finish in the Belmont Stakes.
"The race was great, perfect, but we were a little off today," Nyquist's jockey Mario Gutierrez said.
On a rainy, muggy day at Monmouth Park. Exaggerator made his usual late run after starting way behind the rest of the six-horse field. So far back, jockey Kent Desormeaux figured he'd better get moving sooner than later.
"I bet my brother was in shock asking "where the hell is he going?"' the Hall of Fame rider said about Keith, who was not at the Jersey shore track for the race. "The fact of the matter Keith, I wasn't going anywhere. He was effortlessly galloping and reeling them in. He proved it down the lane. He just exploded."
Exaggerator won by 1 1/2 lengths for his sixth victory in 13 starts. American Freedom finished second, with Sunny Ridge third and Nyquist fourth. Gun Runner was fifth, followed by Awesome Slew.
The winning time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:48.70.
Exaggerator could be headed next to the Travers at Saratoga on Aug, 27, with the goal of the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 5. The win earned Exaggerator an automatic berth to the Classic. Nyquist is headed back home to California to "regroup," trainer Doug O'Neill said.
Sent off as the 5-2 second choice behind even-money favorite Nyquist, Exaggerator returned $7.20, $4 and $3. American Freedom, trained by eight-time Haskell winner Bob Baffert, returned $5.20 and $3.60. Sunny Ridge paid $5 to show.
A year ago, American Pharoah made a triumphant return in the Haskell after becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. A record crowd of more than 60,000 showed up on a gorgeous summer day.
The vibe was far from the same on Sunday, but a Derby winner vs. Preakness winner still drew a crowd of 30,587.
There was a foul claim by American Freedom jockey Rafael Bejarano against Exaggerator for crowding in the stretch, but the finish stood after a brief review by racing stewards.
"When he came around the turn, he crossed me a couple of times," a disappointed Bejarano said. "I had to change my course in the stretch and then let him run again."
The decision to run Exaggerator in the Haskell was a bit surprising. The 3-year-old colt was training in Saratoga for the Jim Dandy, which was run Saturday. But after a subpar workout, Keith Desormeaux had a change of heart. And Exaggerator was Jersey-bound.
"He certainly likes the sloppy going," Clark said. "He's proven himself. Now we have to prove him on a fast track."
Exaggerator earned $600,000 and boosted his earnings to $3,571,120.