SCARBOROUGH — George Kerr and his younger brother, Jamie, are sitting in a lounge at Scarborough Downs when a young man comes up to them to offer congratulations.

Minutes later, there is another smile and a handshake. A wave. Another shout-out.

The Kerr brothers, from Old Orchard Beach, do not race trotters at Scarborough Downs. But they, along with their older brother Michael, are part-owners of Exaggerator, the 3-year-old colt who won the Preakness Stakes on May 21, two weeks after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby.

“It’s amazing,” said George Kerr, a former Democratic state lawmaker from Old Orchard Beach. “It was like we won for them. Actually, I should say it’s like we won with them. Everybody was so supportive.”

On Saturday, Exaggerator is favored to beat 12 challengers and win the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, the third leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. All three Kerr brothers will be at the 148th running of the race, held at the Belmont Park Race Track in Elmont, New York. Michael was at Rockefeller Center on Wednesday when Exaggerator, an early 9-to-5 favorite, drew the No. 11 position.

It’s rare for a horse with ties to Maine to win a Triple Crown race. The most recent was Union Rags, owned by Phyllis Wyeth, winning the 2012 Belmont by a neck. In 1947, Jet Pilot won the Kentucky Derby. The owner, Elizabeth Arden of cosmetics fame, had a home in Kennebec County.


“This is being at the height of the industry,” George Kerr said. “Just to be part of it, just to go to one of those events, is really a dream come true.”

The Kerr Brothers are part of an ownership group called Head of Plains that has a 20 percent share in Exaggerator. There are four ownership groups with a stake in the horse. The Kerrs declined to say how much they paid for their share of Exaggerator or how much the colt has earned for them.

“We run this like a business,” said Matt Bryan, head of Big Chief Racing, which has a 32 percent share in Exaggerator. “But it’s also a lot of fun. The things we are finding out about each other … it’s not just how does the No. 2 horse look? There are so many different things we do to help each other.”

Bryan, a Texas businessman, bought Exaggerator along with Ronny Ortowski (Rocker O Ranch) and trainer Keith Desormeaux (Desormeaux Racing) for $110,000 at a yearling sale in September 2014. About six months ago, they brought in Head of Plains, a group that includes hedge fund CEO Sol Kumin.

“A number of groups approached us,” said Bryan, who has a stable of about 25 horses. “They wanted a piece of a great horse.”

Partnerships are essential in a sport where millions can be spent on a thoroughbred. They help defray costs while letting others share in the success.


And Exaggerator – whom Bryan likens to a linebacker in football because of his athleticism, endurance and speed – hasn’t disappointed. The colt has won five of his 11 career starts, earning $2.9 million.

George Kerr, 61, stressed that being part of this ownership group isn’t just about money. “It becomes about one another and what we are going to do next and what horses we are going to get involved with, or what other businesses we want to get involved with together,” he said. “It really grows into a great relationship.”

“We are a tight-knit group,” Bryan said. “The family component is an important thing.”


The Kerrs first got involved in horse racing in the early 1980s. Their family already had connections – two uncles from Massachusetts owned or trained thoroughbred horses – and they would often go to the races to watch. Then one of their friends was looking to sell a horse named Card Shark.

“The horse used to love to come in second, he never wanted his picture taken,” said Jamie Kerr, 56. “Then we bought him and … this is where you get hooked … the first race we run him, he wins it.”


They built their stable slowly, getting more serious about the sport in the 1990s.

“We are involved in all aspects,” said George Kerr, who has spent many late nights studying horses. “We breed them, we raise them, we run them. We purchase horses at sales, we do partnerships.”

In all, they own 22 horses. The most they’ve ever spent for a horse was around $125,000. “Generally the horses are bought for under $50,000,” George Kerr said. And they’ve had some successes: Little Meatball, the first foal of another Kerr horse (Sophie’s Meatball), has earned almost $200,000 in just five starts. Long on Value, a horse that the Kerrs have a 50 percent stake in, has earned over $500,000.

“We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve had some good horses who have done well,” George Kerr said.

Jamie Kerr was quick to point out, “Not all are like that.”

“No, some are busts,” George Kerr agreed. “And what we have to do then is find them a nice home.”


They are involved in three partnerships, the most successful of which is with Exaggerator. When George Kerr got the call with the offer to join, it was an easy decision for the three brothers because Exaggerator is the son of Curlin, who won more money ($10.5 million) than any other horse from 2008-16. “We loved Curlin,” Jamie Kerr said. “(Exaggerator’s) father had tremendous talent. It was not a tough decision to make.”

The Kerrs finance their thoroughbred ownership with their businesses and real estate holdings. They own the Surf 6 restaurant and lounge in Old Orchard Beach, and are partners in a couple of Scarborough businesses: Dermalogix (products to treat eczema and psoriasis) and SanitiZall (a sanitizing product for cellphones, remote controls and other electronic devices).

“We take our business earnings and use them for the horses,” Jamie Kerr said. “Then we turn our winnings into more.”

Their involvement with Exaggerator has given a boost to Maine’s horse racing industry and excited the state’s racing fans. Mike Sweeney, publicity director at Scarborough Downs, said the betting handles for the 2016 Kentucky Derby and Preakness simulcasts were higher than they had been for those races in recent years.

“It’s a tight world when it comes to horse racing, regardless of breed,” Sweeney said. “The enthusiasm was quite high and a lot of that is because people knew George had a horse in both races. That stretch run at the Derby, people were screaming for Exaggerator. And in the Preakness, people were screaming again down the stretch run. We expect much the same … for the Belmont.”



The Kerr brothers made a pact a long time ago: They would never attend the Kentucky Derby unless they had a horse in it. They had been to Churchill Downs before, but the Derby is something different.

“One hundred and seventy thousand people,” Jamie Kerr said. “You can’t imagine. You lose all sensation. You don’t know where you are. It’s unbelievable.”

“You hear so much about it,” said George Kerr, who videotaped Exaggerator’s walk up the track to the starting gate. “But when you actually participate in it, it becomes mind-boggling.”

More than just the race, it was an experience for the whole family. It was the wives and daughters and girlfriends dressing up in fancy dresses and hats. “The ladies had the time of their lives,” Jamie Kerr said.

Asked what was better, experiencing the Kentucky Derby or winning the Preakness, the Kerr brothers didn’t hesitate.

“You’re in it to win,” Jamie Kerr said.


“I’ll take the win over the Derby any day, even if it’s at Scarborough Downs,” George Kerr said. “And I don’t mean that in a negative way. When you have that horse, a win is a win.”

When Exaggerator crossed the finish line first at the Preakness, the Kerrs celebrated with hugs and screams. They went into the winner’s circle and stayed there for 45 minutes, taking photos with the horse, the trophy and each other. “There were people coming in to take photos that we didn’t even know,” George Kerr said. Finally, they were asked to move along.

“It seemed like it wasn’t long enough,” he said. “We didn’t want to leave.”

Now comes the Belmont and what could be another victory. Then there is the Travers Stakes in late August and the Breeders Cup in November. Perhaps there will be a couple more victories that will enhance Exaggerator’s legacy.

“The main thing is that the horse stays healthy and sound,” George Kerr said.

That’s because the brothers have discovered that a win can come in many forms.

They bought a horse in 2006 and named it Ken’s Kerrage, after their brother Ken, who was suffering from prostate cancer. The horse didn’t win much, and after Ken died in 2009, they gave it to a family in Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, George Kerr received a photo of the woman he gave the horse to sitting on Ken’s Kerrage in a wedding dress.

“That photo was the biggest win for me,” George Kerr said. “My brother never made it to the altar because of his disease. Knowing that the girl I gave (Ken’s Kerrage) to ended up getting married on the horse, that is my biggest victory. I mean it.”

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