Fan-favorite Signalman returned to the races on March 14 for the first time since June! This colt was thrust into the spotlight as a two-year old in 2018 when he squeezed up the rail to finish second in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1). He followed that up with a third place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and a victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2). Signalman’s chances of winning one of the Triple Crown races looked fantastic. Trainer Kenny McPeek couldn’t have been happier with the colt after his victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, noting that the performance was “gutsy”. Co-owners Tommie Lewis, Steve Crabtree, Dean Damaree, David Bersen, Jim Chambers, and McPeek’s own Magdelena Racing were all smitten with the colt.
McPeek had purchased Signalman for just $32,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Fall Yearling Sale in 2018. He was impressed with the colt’s conformation and, according to Thoroughbred Daily News, referred to the horse as having the body of a “greek god”. McPeek values conformation more than an impressive pedigree.
That doesn’t mean that Signalman’s pedigree is “bad”, either. His sire is Turkey-based General Quarters, who won the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) in 2009. His second and final career Grade 1 came in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes on turf. General Quarters comes from a long line of graded stakes winners.
Signalman’s dam, Trip South also hails from a family of winners. Trip South never raced herself, but her sire Trippi was a Grade 1 winner.
“I’ve been in the business 35 years and I’ve never had a horse of this caliber,” co-owner Tommie Lewis told Thoroughbred Daily News. Signalman was actually named after Lewis’s husband Travis, who was a signalman for destroyers and aircraft carriers in the Navy during the Vietnam War.
Signalman was in route to the Kentucky Derby for his devoted co-owners in 2019, but a seventh place finish in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and a third in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) didn’t earn him enough points to actually get into the starting gates on the First Saturday in May.
The Kenny McPeek trainee was entered into the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, instead. Signalman wasn’t on his A-game and ended up finishing a disappointing ninth. Still his connections pressed on, believing that he was a good horse. They took him back to his home track of Churchill Downs for the Matt Winn (G3) on June 15th. The race proved to be a good spot for Signalman; he finished second behind Mr. Money, who was much the best that day. McPeek hoped to run Signalman in the Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes, but veterinarians discovered that the colt had a minor injury. Dr. Larry Bramlage recommended that the colt receive 90 days off, so Signalman was sent to Magdalena Farm to heal and rest. The colt didn’t race again for nine months, instead spending his time healing, growing, and training. When McPeek felt confident that Signalman was ready to return, he entered him in the Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes at Turfway Park. Signalman was able to break from the gates well, but went wide into the final turn and had suffered some bumping at the top of the stretch.
Nevertheless, Signalman came charging from the very back of the pack to get up for third. It was a thrilling return for this colt bred by Monticule. If he continues to improve off of that effort, he will undoubtedly have a good year ahead of him.
[Video: Watch Signalman (#9) get up for third in his return race, the Kentucky Cup Classic]
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