The value of exotic wheat genetic resources for accelerating grain yield gains is largely unproven and unrealized. We used next-generation sequencing, together with multi-environment phenotyping, to study the contribution of exotic genomes to 984 three-way-cross-derived (exotic/elite1//elite2) pre-breeding lines (PBLs). Genomic characterization of these lines with haplotype map-based and SNP marker approaches revealed exotic specific imprints of 16.1 to 25.1%, which compares to theoretical expectation of 25%. A rare and favorable haplotype (GT) with 0.4% frequency in gene bank identified on chromosome 6D minimized grain yield (GY) loss under heat stress without GY penalty under irrigated conditions. More specifically, the ‘T’ allele of the haplotype GT originated in Aegilops tauschii and was absent in all elite lines used in study. In silico analysis of the SNP showed hits with a candidate gene coding for isoflavone reductase IRL-like protein in Ae. tauschii. Rare haplotypes were also identified on chromosomes 1A, 6A and 2B effective against abiotic/biotic stresses. Results demonstrate positive contributions of exotic germplasm to PBLs derived from crosses of exotics with CIMMYT’s best elite lines. This is a major impact-oriented pre-breeding effort at CIMMYT, resulting in large-scale development of PBLs for deployment in breeding programs addressing food security under climate change scenarios.