Oaklawn News

After perfect punctuation Feb. 3, the next test for Exclamation Point comes in Saturday’s fifth race at Oaklawn, a first-level allowance/optional claimer that will mark the two-turn debut for the half-brother to champion and 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire.

Exclamation Point, a 3-year-old son of Concord Point, earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 77 for his front-running 2 ½-length career-debut victory sprinting last month for owner/breeders Steve and Brandi Nicholson and trainer Brad Cox.

“We’ll see how the race plays out,” said Cox, Oaklawn’s leading trainer this year. “I would like to see him sit off horses. I kind of thought that may happen the first time, but it didn’t. We’re just looking for a good effort.”

Cox said he initially thought he would pass Saturday’s 1-mile race, but changed his mind after Exclamation Point, in company, recorded a half-mile bullet workout Monday morning (:47.40). Exclamation Point worked with 4-year-old stablemate Bold Prophet, who is entered in Saturday’s ninth race, a first-level allowance for older horses, after breaking his maiden Jan. 26 in his last start.

“I was kind of thinking about waiting, but he breezed so well this past week that there wasn’t any sense in waiting,” Cox said. “If the race was there … it was, it went. I just felt like we needed to be a part of it, just continue the process of developing him.”

Exclamation Point, the 9-5 program favorite, is scheduled to break from post 2 under Fernando De La Cruz and carry 114 pounds.

Also entered are unbeaten Colour Guard – a son of Oaklawn stakes winners Archarcharch and Endless Parade – Articulator (2 for 2 at the meeting) and Inge, moving to two turns after finishing fourth in last Saturday’s $125,000 Gazebo Stakes.
Probable post time for Saturday’s fifth race is 3:08 p.m. (Central).

A Triple Crown nominee, Exclamation Point will be making his first start since Staton Flurry of Hot Springs purchased 50 percent of the chestnut colt late last month. The Nicholsons also bred Classic Empire.

More Green for McPeek
Kenneth McPeek, 1.28.18
Trainer Kenny McPeek recorded his record fifth victory since Oaklawn’s “Lasix-free Bonus Program” was implemented in 2015 in Thursday’s first race with Brockton George, who was making his first career start without the legal anti-bleeder medication.

Brockton George, racing for the ninth time, also represented a record sixth Lasix-free victory at the meeting, and 20th overall. Oaklawn had five Lasix-free victories in 2015, four in 2016 and five last year, according to data released by the track.

Four of McPeek’s Lasix-free victories have come this year. He said last month that he was taking horses off Lasix in order to chase the bonus (10 percent of the winner’s share of the purse). Brockton George earned an additional $1,500 from an adjusted purse of $26,500. The mile race was for conditioned $20,000 claimers.

Another one of McPeek’s Lasix-free winners at the meet, Blueridge Traveler, returned to win the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup Stakes last Saturday at Sam Houston without running on anti-bleeder medication.

Oaklawn has awarded $52,080 in bonus money under the Lasix-free program, with McPeek totaling $15,480 this year.

Trainer Will VanMeter has four victories under the Lasix-free program.
Fernando’s Feats

A Da La Cruz is in the top 10 of the rider standings after 28 days racing, but it’s not Walter. Instead, it’s older brother Fernando who is making an impact in his first season in Hot Springs.

Fernando De La Cruz is in a sixth-place tie with 13 victories from 91 starts. His mounts have earned $594,162 in purse money.

De La Cruz, 31, was riding at Tampa Bay Downs when agent Tony King said he called the jockey “out of the blue” in late December and asked if he would be willing to try Oaklawn, which opened Jan. 12.

“He was doing well in Tampa, but wasn’t having the success he had the previous couple of years,” King said. “I said, ‘What about the opportunity to go maybe hustle and ride at Oaklawn?’ He said, ‘Let me think about that. That’s an option for me.’ ”

King said the hook for De La Cruz relocating to Arkansas at the 11th hour was the opportunity to potentially “ride a few horses” for Brad Cox, a close friend of the agent and Oaklawn’s leading trainer this year.

The Cox/De La Cruz combination has produced a 9-3-0 record from 24 starters at the meet and purse earnings of $355,722.

“Been blessed,” King said. “It’s worked out very well so far.”

One of De La Cruz’s victories for Cox came aboard Exclamation Point, a 3-year-old half-brother to champion and 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire, in his Feb. 3 career debut.

Exclamation Point is scheduled to make his first start around two turns in Saturday’s fifth race, an entry-level allowance/optional claimer at a mile.

“That’s a nice horse,” De La Cruz said.

Walter De La Cruz, who won 60 races at Oaklawn in 2015-2017, is the fourth-leading rider this year at Mahoning Valley.
Dawn at Oaklawn

Trainer Tom Van Berg, the son of the late Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, is the special guest on Saturday’s Dawn at Oaklawn, a weekly question-and-answer session hosted by paddock analyst Nancy Holthus.

The free program, which includes barn tours and complimentary pastries and coffee, is 7:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m. (Central). Van Berg will be interviewed around 8:30 a.m. on the apron at the south end of the grandstand.
Finish Lines  

The track was rated good for workouts Friday morning. … Oaklawn has not had a fast track for racing since Feb. 9, a span of 110 races. … Trainer Dan Peitz and jockey Rayan Gazader teamed for two victories on Thursday’s card –  Tiz Funny ($14.60) in the fifth race and Mutajaded ($7.80) in the seventh race. … Nominations to the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies and the $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes for older sprinters close Friday. Both races will be run March 10. … Defending champion Whitmore remains on course to make his 5-year-old debut in the Hot Springs, co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett said Friday morning.