Some horses have run faster, and others have accomplished significantly more as of late, but from the standpoint of being a professional, gutsy competitor, no horse on the Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve has impressed me more than Signalman, who will compete in the $1 million, Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes going 1 1/8 miles at Keeneland on April 6.
Bought for just $32,000 as a yearling, #3 Signalman was a picture of consistency as a 2-year-old last year, finishing in the top three every time he ran. Despite being a large horse, Signalman showed remarkable athleticism on several occasions, most notably in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. When Signalman was bumped hard into the inner rail on the far turn, did he give up and retreat through the field? Not at all—in fact, he re-rallied, bulled his way back through on the inside, and finished second.
Signalman again threaded his way through the pack while saving ground in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where his late rally was good enough for third place. Three weeks later in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, he saved ground again, made multiple moves into a hot pace, and fought gamely down the homestretch to defeat the future UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait by a neck.
Signalman’s ability to start and stop in traffic, rally inside, split horses, and overcome adversity speaks volumes of his talent and professionalism. And while he never threatened while finishing seventh in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream last month, I’m inclined to forgive that performance. After all, he was returning from a layoff while making his first start at an unfamiliar track; furthermore, trainer Kenny McPeek said after the race that Signalman lost a shoe and might have been underprepared for the race.
Now Signalman is returning to Keeneland, where he ran so well in the Breeders’ Futurity, and his recent workouts have been sharp, including two bullet moves going five-eighths of a mile that were the fastest workouts of their respective mornings. With a full field of 14 horses lined up to contest the Breeders’ Futurity, Signalman’s affinity for racing in traffic could come in handy, and drawing post three should provide him with an opportunity to work out a ground-saving trip.
Need any more convincing? From a historical perspective, Signalman perfectly matches the profile of a typical Blue Grass Stakes winner. With all of these positives to consider, how can we possibly side against Signalman?
Splitting the rest of the contenders is easier said than done. #2 Vekoma is the clear 9-5 favorite after finishing third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, but I thought he got a great setup closing into a fast pace, and the way he flattened out in the final eighth of a mile leaves me wondering if he might be better going a bit shorter than 1 1/8 miles. The same goes for #8 Win Win Win, who finished third in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby last month. A habitual slow starter, Win Win Win had every chance to capitalize on a fast pace at Tampa, but couldn’t sustain his rally in the homestretch and gives the impression that he might be better running shorter than 1 1/8 miles, at least until he starts getting away better from the starting gate.
One longshot that has caught my eye is #10 Lucky Lee, who scored a couple of easy victories going a mile at Parx Racing last year. Trained by John Servis of Smarty Jones fame, Lucky Lee made his 2019 debut in the Feb. 2 Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, but failed to fire at all while trudging home last of seven. It was such a dull performance that I’m tempted to just draw a line through the race, especially since Lucky Lee had missed a workout beforehand.
On March 24, Lucky Lee looked good breezing three-quarters of a mile at Palm Meadows, working in company with the champion 2-year-old filly Jaywalk. To my eye, he made the more favorable impression, and since Servis is showing confidence by running Lucky Lee back in a major Kentucky Derby prep race, I think Lucky Lee is a longshot worth including in your Blue Grass wagers.
Here’s how I would play the race:
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$10 to win on #3 Signalman
Wagering Strategy on a $25 Budget
$2 exacta: 3 with 2,8,10 ($6)
$2 exacta: 2,8,10 with 3 ($6)
$1 exacta: 3 with ALL ($13)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!