To be honest, you could pick a name out of a hat and probably have as good a chance at picking the winner of Saturday’s $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland as any handicapper employing a more analytical approach.
That’s because this 1 1/8-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race has attracted a full field of fourteen starters without any particular standouts. Half of them haven’t won a race in 2019, twelve of them are entering off of defeats, and only three of them have previously won a graded stakes race.
Those three are #1 Somelikeithotbrown, #2 Vekoma, and #3 Signalman, and they are understandably three of the four favorites on the morning line. But I have doubts about the first two—Somelikeithotbrown has achieved his best success on turf and synthetic tracks, including a gate-to-wire victory in a modest renewal of the Jeff Ruby Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park, while last year’s Nashua Stakes (gr. III) winner Vekoma strikes me as more of a miler type after watching him flatten out to finish third in the March 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) despite a pretty ideal pace setup.
But I find it much harder to knock Signalman, a colt who impressed me tremendously last year with his ability to race inside and between horses while waiting in traffic and making multiple moves in start-and-stop fashion. That kind of athleticism is remarkable, especially for a large horse like Signalman, and his ability was never better demonstrated than in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland last year, in which he got shoved into the rail on the far turn, but shrugged off the incident to re-rally along the inside and finish second.
Granted, Signalman showed next to nothing when finishing seventh in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, but that was his first start of the season and trainer Kenny McPeek later said he might have undertrained Signalman for the race. It didn’t help that the colt lost a shoe too, so I’m tempted to just draw a line through that effort and assume that Signalman will rebound sharply while returning to Keeneland and making his second start off a layoff. Certainly his recent workouts have been eye-catching, including five furlongs in a bullet :59 4/5 on March 30th.
After drawing post position three, I hope to see Signalman put his athleticism to good use and work out a ground-saving trip. Despite his uninspiring seasonal debut, I think he’s the most likely winner of the Blue Grass Stakes.
Since Signalman figures to offer a nice price in the wagering, a simple win bet will be my main wager, but I’ll also play him on top of “all” in the exacta, since this race is wide-open enough that a longshot runner-up would come as no surprise.
$15 to win on #3 Signalman
$1 exacta: 3 with 2,8 ($2)
$1 exacta: 3 with ALL ($13)