When the ponies go to post for the 148th running of the Belmont Stakes, there might be a decided favorite, but as usual, it will be anything but a slam dunker.

Exaggerator is fresh off a huge run in the Preakness and looks like a horse peaking at the right time. His huge, closing run away and hide win in the Santa Anita Derby coupled with a second place Kentucky Derby run and that powerful Preakness score means he is the man. Trainer Keith Desormeaux might be the “new kid on the block” in the Triple Crown chase, but he is no stranger to hard work in horse racing. The maturation of his horse is no accident and the Louisiana native is enjoying the fruits of his labors.

“This is not something I was dreaming about every day because I always knew it could be a reality,” says Desormeaux. “Not only because I believed in my work, but also because of my brother and others in the business that have participated in these events. It is gratifying to be involved, but we are just trying to have fun and compete at the highest level.”

One of the other things that will make Exaggerator the likely favorite is his proven versatility. Some may think of this son of Curlin as a deep closer, but he is much more and his wins have proven that. Yes, that incredible performance in the Santa Anita Derby was a huge run from way off the pace, but in the Preakness he was much closer to the front and turned it up in the home stretch. Possessing a huge kick, Exaggerator can unleash it from anywhere in the pack.

“If you think he is not versatile then you can’t read the racing form,” says Desormeaux. “If you look at his past performances it is as plain as day. He has won at a variety of distances in many different ways. He has got a tremendous kick so it does not matter whether he is 2 lengths off the lead or 20 lengths off as long as he is comfortable.”

One thing that raises questions about the Belmont outcome is of course distance. Run at a mile and a half, this “test of a champion” is indeed that. None of the entrants have ever run that far so questions naturally arise. Because of the added yardage, the pace scenario usually changes and that means strategy has to change for some. The Dale Romans trained Cherry Wine is one of those that will likely make adjustments. Always making a big run at the end, this son of Paddy O’Prado used his late kick to get up for second in the Preakness. But the man who has finished third in the Belmont four times (Nolan’s Cat 2005, First Dude 2010, Medal Count 2014, Keen Ice 2015) understands the need to be closer.

“The early speed was there in the Preakness and that set it up for Cherry Wine, but in these longer races we know we need to be closer to the front,” says Romans. “Exaggerator is a very nice horse but no one is going to hand it to him. I think his pedigree is that he can get the distance and he has just been getting better and better. He is a horse that is starting to put it all together mentally. We certainly want him to be closer to the pace because the fractions will be a lot softer because of the distance.”

Romans will have another entrant in Bluegrass Stakes winner Brody’s Cause. Seventh in the Kentucky Derby, this son of Giant’s Causeway is another closer that will join the ranks of others like Suddenbreakingnews, and Creator that are known for coming late. Much like Cherry Wine however, these runners will likely be closer to the front. Since 2000, thirteen of the winners were in the top five at the one mile mark. The last five Belmont winners were all in the top three after one mile.

So what does it all mean? It means a horse can steal the Belmont if he gets loose on the lead and can run easily up front. Most of the entrants do not want to be out front, but somebody will have to be there. Kent Desormeaux is a hall of fame jockey that can sense a soft pace. That means Exaggerator will likely be very near the lead and is the likely winner. He is a very durable horse that has responded well to his training curriculum. But because we know there are no guarantees in the sport, we are taking Cherry Wine to pull off an upset. Exaggerator will be there at the end too so put him in your trifecta with Suddenbreakingnews.