Trainer Brad Cox has a Sleeper for the Kentucky Derby

Press Release

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.