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Horse Racing, Kentucky Derby at The Downey Profile®

Exclamation Point A 'Work in Progress; Higher Power Rebel Bound


Full Brother to Classic Empire Has a Few Issues

On the heels of Exclamation Point's two-turn allowance win yesterday at Oaklawn Park, trainer Brad Cox said it’s “very possible” the full brother to Classic Empire will run again this year at the track. The question is what kind of race.

The March 17 Rebel obviously comes up too soon, but the Arkansas Derby is possible along with the Northern Spur Stakes, the latter of which carries no Kentucky Derby points. Both races are set for the same day, April 14.

“Work in progress, nice horse, tons of talent,” Cox said yesterday after the win. “Hopefully, he’ll take us where we want to go.”

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

Fernando De La Cruz began pushing on Exclamation Point around the second turn, and the colt took the lead on the outside turning for home. He began drifting out approaching the wire, prompting De La Cruz to go to a right-handed stick.

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

“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.”

Cox said Exclamation Point 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.
Higher Power

After a period of doubt, Higher Power is definitely being pointed to the Rebel.

A half-brother to millionaire and 2012 Oaklawn Handicap winner Alternation, Higher Power is unbeaten in two starts around two turns and two for three overall. Trainer Donnie 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 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 19 before missing about a week of training because of a minor illness.

Higher Power has breezed three times since he resumed training, the last a five-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 did, Higher Promise races for his breeder, Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stable.

Edited Oaklawn Park release with additional content by Dick Downey

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