I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more than happy to pick a favorite to win a major horse race if I think that horse is the most likely winner. Even very short prices like 3-5 or 4-5 won’t scare me off if I think the chances of victory are great enough to warrant such a short price.
But on the other hand, there are instances when I would never dream of picking a horse at a short price, and Saturday’s $500,000, Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland is a perfect example.
Fourteen horses have been entered in this prestigious, 1 1/16-mile prep race for the Grade 1 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and the favorites, in my opinion, are a bit vulnerable. Mind Control (#13) at 7-2 on the morning-line odds is the most accomplished horse in the field thanks to his determined victory in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last month, but it remains to be seen how far this speedy son of Stay Thirsty wants to run, and drawing post-position 13 in a large field could lead to a wide trip.
Sombeyay (#2) at 5-1 and Dream Maker (#5) at 5-1 are the co-second choices after finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Hopeful, but both ran rather flat that day, and taking a short price while hoping that they rebound isn’t really an appealing option.
That’s why I’m tempted to go way outside the box with Signalman (#1), an up-and-coming colt trained by Kenny McPeek. Simply put, there’s quite a bit to like about Signalman, who first emerged on the scene while finishing second sprinting five-eighths of a mile in his debut at Churchill Downs. On that day in May, the track was sloppy and Signalman broke slowly from the starting gate. Despite these obstacles, he produced a respectable late rally to pass everyone except future graded stakes winner Sir Truebadour.
Signalman didn’t race again for 3 ½ months, but when he returned on Sept. 1 going seven-eighths of a mile at Saratoga, he showed significant improvement. For starters, he got away from the starting gate a bit better and was able to press the pace from the outset. From there, he was simply faster than in his debut, battling to take the lead and holding off the late-charging runner-up to prevail by a nose.
Signalman will stretch out in distance again for the Breeders’ Futurity, but his pedigree suggests that racing around two turns won’t be an issue — after all, his sire, General Quarters, was a two-time Grade 1 winner going 1 1/8 miles. And for good measure, Signalman will be racing with Lasix (furosemide) for the first time on Saturday, which could further help his chances of negotiating the longer distance in a fast time.
Best of all, Signalman is 15-1 on the morning line, a very appealing price that should result in an ample reward if he finishes in the top two.
With all of this in mind, I’ll make Signalman my main play in the Breeders’ Futurity, betting him to win and place while also adding a couple of small exactas keying Signalman with Dream Maker and two other nice-priced contenders.
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget:
$5 to win on #1 Signalman
$5 to place on #1 Signalman
Wagering Strategy on a $25 Budget
$9 to win on #1 Signalman
$10 to place on #1 Signalman
$1 exacta: 1 with 3,5,10 ($3)
$1 exacta: 3,5,10 with 1 ($3)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!