Is Signator a Star in the Making?

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

The final day of 2023 brings the $150,000 Queens County S. at Aqueduct. The 1 1/8-mile contest isn't the richest or most prestigious race taking place over the holiday weekend, but it does contain a horse I believe could make a lot of noise in 2024: #5 Signator, an up-and-coming three-year-old (soon to be four-year-old) conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.

The Queens County was a Grade 3 for many years, and its roster of winners included Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) heroes Ron the Greek (2011) and Evening Attire (2001 and 2007). It lost its graded status in 2012, but continues to produce quality winners. Multiple graded stakes winner War Story took home top honors in 2016, and the most recent edition was won by Santa Anita Mathis Mile (G2) winner and Woodward (G1) runner-up Law Professor. I believe Signator can rise to similar or higher heights.

Signator caught my eye as a two-year-old in 2022 when he unleashed a strong finishing kick to win a one-mile maiden special weight at Aqueduct. Despite settling off the pace behind modest splits of :24.09, :48.73, and 1:13.93, Signator rallied to lead by two lengths at the eighth pole and extended his advantage down the lane to win by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:37.89. In the process, he ran his final quarter-mile in an excellent :23.71 and counted future Discovery S. winner Crupi among his beaten rivals.

Unfortunately, Signator went to the sidelines after his maiden victory, and when he returned to action earlier this summer he failed to factor in his first three starts against allowance competition. But gradually, the gray colt rounded back into form. In his fourth start of 2023, Signator produced a determined charge from eighth place to win a one-mile allowance at Aqueduct by three-quarters of a length.

This preceded an even sharper performance in a 1 1/8-mile $62,500 allowance optional claimer at Aqueduct last month. Settling about four lengths behind slow fractions of :25.09 and :50.02 could have compromised Signator, but instead the stoutly bred son of Tapit accelerated his final three furlongs in a blazing :35.52 to seize command and prevail by 2 1/2 lengths.

Signator's winning time of 1:50.32 wasn't anything to write home about; it translated to a 94 Beyer Speed Figure and a 94 Brisnet Speed rating. But the pedestrian early pace wasn't conducive to producing strong speed figures, and Signator's accelerating finish suggests he could have recorded a faster winning time if he'd had a quicker pace to chase.

Signator subsequently shipped to Florida, where he breezed a bullet five furlongs over the slow track at Payson Park in 1:02 3/5 on Dec. 16. But he's returning to Aqueduct for the Queens County, which should be a great fit since Signator has compiled a 5-3-1-0 record over the Aqueduct main track. He was cross-entered in Saturday's Harlan's Holiday (G3) at Gulfstream Park, but according to David Grening of the Daily Racing Form, Signator will run in the Queens County instead.

There are some capable and accomplished horses entered in the Queens County, including the above-mentioned #4 Crupi, but I'm optimistic Signator is sitting on a third straight victory. The Queens County field doesn't contain much pace on paper, which might actually be a good thing since it reduces the risk of Signator getting run off his feet early on. Another modest tempo should allow Signator to produce his big finish down the homestretch and hopefully wear down #5 Kinetic Sky, an improving Rick Dutrow trainee who seems likely to set the pace.

What helps Signator's chances is the fact he's capable of rallying into contention early in the homestretch, rather than late in the game. In both his maiden victory and his recent allowance score, Signator rallied to lead by two lengths passing the eighth pole.

If Signator runs to my expectations in the Queens County, watch out. I get the feeling he's sitting on a big four-year-old season, one worthy of the $1.7 million purchase price he brought as a two-year-old in training. Retirements have left the older horse division without many stars for 2024, and Signator may be poised to fill the void and win his fair share of graded stakes.

Do you think Signator will be a star next year?


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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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