Is Locked a Lock to Win the Breeders' Futurity?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

No fewer than 10 Grade 1 races are taking place in North America this weekend, four weeks before the Breeders' Cup. Some of the best horses in training are slated to compete, and the race I'm most excited to see is the $600,000 Breeders' Futurity (G1) on Saturday at Keeneland.

The field for this 1 1/16-mile contest has come up remarkably strong. It's basically an early preview of the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). Three of the nine entrants have already won stakes, while another has placed at the Grade 1 level and four others are exiting promising maiden victories. I believe there's a strong chance the Breeders' Futurity will produce the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner for the third time in four years.

That belief stems from my confidence that #9 Locked (7-5) is a beast in the making. The Todd Pletcher trainee has shown tremendous potential in two starts, so even though the Breeders' Futurity field has come up deep, I expect Locked to deliver an impressive victory.

The son of Gun Runner debuted on Aug. 5 in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga and arguably turned in the best performance while finished third. Locked broke just a little slowly from post four and wound up getting shut off between rivals; after steadying and losing ground, he found himself racing last in a field of ten, 11 1/2 lengths behind an opening quarter-mile in :22.56.

The early leaders weren't much in the mood for tiring that day. Pacesetter Ozone weakened to finish fourth, but the pace-tracking duo of Just Steel and Be You battled on down the homestretch to finish a nose apart in first and second.

The only horse to gain any meaningful ground was Locked. Despite his troubled start, the chestnut colt advanced steadily to take third place. He gained three lengths through the final furlong alone to finish 3 1/2 lengths behind Just Steel, and he pulled 6 1/2 lengths clear of Ozone.

Locked figured to be formidable when stretching out over one mile for a Sept. 1 maiden special weight at Saratoga, but few bettors could have predicted just how strongly he would run. Despite getting involved in some bumping at the start, Locked showed improved early speed pressing fractions of :23.96 and :47.72 from second place.

And then Locked took over. By running his third quarter-mile in approximately :24.26, Locked stormed away around the far turn and opened up a 4 1/2-length lead with a quarter-mile remaining. This early move did absolutely nothing to tire Locked, who accelerated his final two furlongs in :11.99 and :11.95 to draw off and dominate by 7 1/4 lengths in the fast time of 1:36.00. Runner-up Drum Roll Please pulled 13 lengths clear of the rest.

Any way you slice it, this was a freakish debut. When was the last time you saw a juvenile run the final two furlongs of a one-mile dirt race in less than 12 seconds apiece? The comparison that comes to mind is Locked's sire, Gun Runner, who posted closing splits of approximately :11.58 and :12.26 when he won his debut racing one mile at Churchill Downs. But Gun Runner chased a slower early pace than Locked (:24.16, :48.71, and 1:13.66), and even still his final furlong was slower than 12 seconds.

Gun Runner, of course, went on to win half a dozen Grade 1 races and 2017 Horse of the Year honors while earning nearly $16 million. Could Locked possibly be destined for similar success? Only time will tell, but the Saratoga timer tells us Locked might be a superstar in the making. I'm optimistic the Breeders' Futurity will mark the first of many Grade 1 wins for Locked.

Now... what about the Breeders' Futurity minor awards? We haven't even touched on the other talented horses in the entries.

The two that interest me most are #3 Awesome Road (3-1) and #1 The Wine Steward (8-1). Awesome Road was a flashy debut winner sprinting six furlongs at Ellis Park, vying for early command before edging clear in the final furlong to beat Stronghold by 2 3/4 lengths. That performance was flattered when Stronghold came back to win a one-mile maiden special weight at Churchill Downs last Sunday.

As for The Wine Steward, he's undefeated in three starts sprinting, including a pair of stakes. The New York-bred colt dominated the Bashford Manor S. at Ells Park by 2 3/4 lengths, then squared off against fellow New York-breds in Saratoga's Funny Cide S. and overcame a stumbling start to beat next-out stakes winner El Grande O by a head.

As a son of long-winded champion and Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Vino Rosso, The Wine Steward has the pedigree to shine while stretching out over 1 1/16 miles. I don't think we've seen his best yet, and a top-three finish at enticing odds isn't out of the question.

#2 Timberlake (7-2) is another viable contender; the Hopeful (G1) runner-up beat future Iroquois (G3) winner #5 West Saratoga (20-1) by 9 1/4 lengths in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Ellis Park during the summer. And we can't dismiss #6 Generous Tipper (15-1), a 7 1/2-length maiden winner racing one mile at Ellis last time out. Generous Tipper is conditioned by three-time Breeders' Futurity-winning trainer Kenny McPeek, who not infrequently sends out live contenders in this race.


1st: Locked
2nd: Awesome Road
3rd: The Wine Steward

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Breeders' Futurity?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.

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