What do you do when faced with handicapping a full field of fourteen lightly-raced two-year-olds, the majority of them stretching out around two turns for the first time?
Well, pretty much the best you can do is analyze the field, pick a few horses you like, and hope for the best. That’s what I’ll be doing for Saturday’s $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland, a 8.5-furlong “Win and You’re In” prep race for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). With that prize on the line, along with a total of 17 qualification points on the 2018-19 Road to the Kentucky Derby, it’s no surprise that this race has drawn such a deep and competitive field.
In recent years, Saratoga has been the most common point of origin for Breeders’ Futurity winners, with seven of the last eight winners prepping at that renowned New York racetrack. That doesn’t narrow down this year’s Breeders’ Futurity field a whole lot, but it does suggest that #1 Signalman could be worth a close look.
Trained by Kenny McPeek, who seems to have a live contender in this race more often than not, Signalman showed promise in his debut at Churchill Downs on May 17th, overcoming a slow start over a sloppy, sealed track to rally and finish second behind the future graded stakes winner Sir Truebadour. Following a 3 ½-month layoff, Signalman returned to action in a seven-furlong maiden race on the final Saturday of the Saratoga meet and stepped up his game significantly, pressing a solid pace before finishing up well to win by a nose in a three-way photo finish.
Since that race, Signalman has posted a pair of sharp half-mile workouts at Keeneland, “signaling” his readiness to step up in distance and class. His pedigree suggests that two turns won’t be an issue, and he’ll also be racing on Lasix for the first time. Drawing the rail in a large field could be tricky, but if jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. can work out an ideal ground-saving trip without getting caught in traffic, I think Signalman could be a very live contender on Saturday.
#5 Dream Maker, an impressive debut winner at Churchill Downs, could only finish fifth in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) last time out, but his work tab prior to that race was a little unsteady and he’s trained much sharper since then, suggesting that a rebound could be on the table for this Mark Casse-trained son of Tapit. #10 Mr. Ankeny, an up-and-coming maiden winner from the barn of Dale Romans, and #3 Fluminense, who adds blinkers for Steve Asmussen, are others that have caught my eye, while I’ll lean against the speedy Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) winner #13 Mind Control, who has drawn very wide in post thirteen and could be in for a tough trip.
Here’s how I would play the race: