Exaggerator should handle fast track just fine in Belmont

It’s funny that horse racing gets short shrift if no Triple Crown is on the line in the Belmont Stakes.

It’s like saying the British Open is not meaningful if a player has not won the first two legs of golf’s Grand Slam — the Masters and U.S. Open.

Major sporting events are what we think they are: always worth winning.

In that vein, having Kentucky Derby runner-up and Preakness winner Exaggerator in the Belmont is a big deal. If he wins the Belmont, he would become the leader of the 3-year-old division over Nyquist.

The Belmont always has signaled the end of the first half of the racing season. We have the Del Mar and Saratoga meets coming up soon. And the summer is a road full of major stakes races all heading west toward the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park this fall.

The Belmont drew 13 horses, which tells me no one is afraid of Exaggerator. They should be. He is the fastest horse in the race, yet many believe he is not as good on a fast track as a muddy surface.

It’s hard to argue that Exaggerator has proven himself to be an outstanding “mudder.” He won over a sloppy track in the Santa Anita Derby and the Preakness. So the Saturday forecast of perfect weather in Elmont, New York, is considered a negative for the horse.

Kent Desormeaux, the rider of Exaggerator and the brother of the horse’s trainer, Keith, has a dark cloud hanging over him entering the race. He checked into an alcohol rehabilitation center soon after the Preakness. Let’s hope his mind is clear and his body right for the ride of his life.

Other horses I like are Stradivari, Suddenbreakingnews and Destin.

Trainer Todd Pletcher asked a lot of Stradivari in the Preakness. It was the horse’s first start in a stakes race.

He began from Post 11, which made him work from the start. Then he had mud kicked in his face for the first time. Stradivari was wide in the stretch but finished fourth, a half-length behind Nyquist. He got quite an education in the Preakness and should improve.

Suddenbreakingnews is among five horses that started in the Kentucky Derby, then rested five weeks for the Belmont. He is a dead late closer who should relish the 1½-mile distance. Trainer Donnie Von Hemel switches to Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, so consider that a positive move.

Destin is an uncoupled stablemate of Stradivari, as both are trained by Todd Pletcher. He has tactical speed like Stradivari, so I would not be surprised to see them racing side by side in third or fourth position.

As for the pace of the race, I suspect Gettysburg will get that role. But if nobody goes, Stradivari could be well suited setting soft early fractions.

ENG’S SELECTIONS — Exaggerator, Stradivari, Suddenbreakingnews, Destin.

BELMONT STAKES SEMINAR A Belmont Stakes handicapping seminar will take place at 6 p.m. Friday in the Sunset Station race book. Participants will be Brian Blessing of Sportsbook Radio, author Steve Davidowitz and me.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. You can get his Santa Anita picks by emailing him at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick

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