Oaklawn News

Trainer Brad Cox said it’s “very possible” unbeaten Exclamation Point will run again this year at Oaklawn, but it won’t be in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds March 17.

Cox said the 1 1/16 Rebel, Oaklawn’s final major prep for the closing-day $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 14, comes up “too quick” for the lightly raced Exclamation Point, a 1 ¼-length winner of Saturday’s fifth race, a first-level allowance/optional claimer at a mile, under Fernando De La Cruz.

Regarding being wheeled back in the Rebel, Cox said, “No shot,” adding Exclamation Point could be considered for the Arkansas Derby or the $150,000 Northern Spur Stakes April 14 at Oaklawn.

“Work in progress, nice horse, tons of talent,” Cox said following Saturday’s ninth race. “Hopefully, he’ll take us where we want to go.”

Making his second career start, and first around two turns Saturday, Exclamation Point stalked front-running Inge on the outside through splits of :22.93 for the opening quarter and :47.18 for a half-mile.

De La Cruz began pushing on Exclamation Point around the second turn and the half-brother to champion and 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire, under left-handed urging, took the lead on the outside turning for home. The colt began drifting out approaching the wire, prompting De La Cruz to go to a right-handed stick. Mile races at Oaklawn begin and end at the sixteenth pole.

“I thought he ran well,” Cox said. “It looked like he got a little lost at the top of the lane, and then also down the lane. With nothing to run at him, he was kind of looking at maybe a tire track from the gate. Overall, for him to step up and run against winners for the first time, first time around two turns – we asked a lot of him. I thought he sat off somewhat of a hot pace today. He did well. He’s very athletic. The horse has a ton to learn. Moving forward, I don't know where we’ll go with him. We’ll probably give him a little time.”

Exclamation Point, the 3-5 favorite, covered a mile over a fast track in 1:38.80.

Exclamation Point was coming off a front-running 2 ½-length victory sprinting Feb. 3. Cox noted he won his career debut despite being “a touch worked up in the post parade” with the lead pony and switching to his left lead inside the sixteenth pole after being hit right-handed.

Exclamation Point was equipped with a lip chain until he got to the gate Saturday, Cox said, adding he believed the equipment helped keep the colt more settled before the race.

“He’s got ability, he’s got talent,” Cox said. “It's just, I guess, getting it out of him. We're getting it out of him, but there’s a fine line you’ve got to walk as far as getting him to perform in the afternoon and doing it the right way – running straight and not jumping on the pony. It’s a work a progress.”

Exclamation Point races for his breeders, Steve and Brandi Nicholson, and Staton Flurry of Hot Springs, who purchased a half-interest in the colt late last month.
A Higher Power?

The promising Higher Power is targeting the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 17, trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said Thursday morning.

A half-brother to millionaire and 2012 Oaklawn Handicap winner Alternation, Higher Power is unbeaten in two starts around two turns and 2 for 3 overall. Von Hemel said there’s nothing else in the latest condition book for Higher Power, unless he runs for a $62,500 claiming price.

“We probably won’t do that,” Von Hemel said with a laugh.

A son of Medaglia d’Oro, Higher Power won a Jan. 13 allowance/optional claimer at a mile in his 3-year-old debut. He was under consideration for the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 19 before missing about a week of training because of a minor illness, Von Hemel said.

Higher Power has breezed three times since he resumed training, the last a 5-furlong move in 1:00.80 Tuesday morning. Higher Power worked with stablemate Broken Promise, an older allowance runner.

“I think it was what we were wanting,” said Von Hemel, who also trained Alternation. “We were wanting a good, strong work with him. We know Broken Promise, being a 4-year-old, could kind of keep him to his task. I thought it was a good effort. We got something out of it.”

Like Alternation, Higher Promise races for his breeder, Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stable.
Ruby Shines
Red Ruby, The Martha Washington, 2.10.18, Oaklawn
Red Ruby completed major preparations for Saturday’s $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies with a sharp half-mile work in company after the renovation break Sunday morning for trainer Kellyn Gorder.

Breezing over a fast track, Red Ruby covered the distance in :48 under Edgar Morales, Oaklawn’s leading apprentice jockey this year. Clockers caught Red Ruby galloping out 5 furlongs in 1:00.20 and 6 furlongs in 1:14.40. Red Ruby worked with the Johnny Ortiz-trained Sully’s Dream, who finished fourth in the $150,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares Feb. 17 in her last start. Ortiz was aboard Sully’s Dream, who was credited with a half-mile in :48.20. The pair worked during a brief rain shower.

Red Ruby’s time was fourth-best of 85 recorded at the distance.

Red Ruby is coming off a 2 ½-length victory in the $125,000 Martha Washington Stakes Feb. 10, Oaklawn’s first of three major preps for the Kentucky Oaks.

A gray daughter of 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow, Red Ruby was making her stakes debut in the 1-mile Martha Washington. She is 2 for 3 overall.

Also expected for the 1 1/16-mile Honeybee are Sassy Sienna and Cosmic Burst, second and third, respectively, in the Honeybee; unbeaten Amy’s Challenge, winner of the $125,000 Dixie Belle Stakes Jan. 20; and Stronger Than Ever, winner of the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes Jan. 13 at Fair Grounds in her last start.

Trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs said Bo Peep (2 for 3 at the meeting) is under consideration for the Honeybee. Bo Peep worked a half-mile in :48.80 Sunday morning.

Post positions for the Honeybee and Saturday’s $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes for older sprinters will be drawn Wednesday.
Finish Lines

Trainer Ron Moquett said Sunday morning that he will be represented in Saturday’s $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes for older sprinters, but added he’s still debating “which or both,” regarding defending champion Whitmore and Petrov. The major spring objective for Whitmore, Moquett said, remains the $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 14 at Oaklawn, a race he also won last year. Post positions for the 6-furlong Hot Springs will be drawn Wednesday. … Trainer Wayne Catalano said Sunday morning that he’s “definitely taking a hard look” at the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares March 17 for multiple stakes winner Farrell. After a front-running win in the $125,000 Pippin Stakes Jan. 13, Farrell was last of six in the $150,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 17, a 1 1/16-mile race contested over a sloppy track. “We’re going to look at the next one (Azeri) just because it’s a non-race the other day,” Catalano said. The 1 1/16-mile Azeri is the final major local prep for the $700,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 13. … Bayakoa runner-up Terra Promessa worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 Sunday morning. … Perennial Oaklawn champions Ricardo Santana Jr. (jockey) and Steve Asmussen (trainer) teamed for four victories Saturday – Cloudy Claudia ($6.80) in the first race, favored Dreamcall ($6.80) in the fourth race, Chanteline ($10.40) in the $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes and Tapsolute ($10.40) in the ninth race following the disqualification of Chris and Dave for interference in the stretch. Asmussen, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2016, has at least one stakes victory every year at Oaklawn since 1996. Asmussen has been Oaklawn’s leading trainer eight times since 2007 and tops the standings this year with 19 victories, one more than Brad Cox. Santana, seeking his sixth consecutive Oaklawn riding title, has a meet-high 30 victories.