What we learned: Fearless looks stakes-ready off Churchill win

What we learned: Fearless looks stakes-ready off Churchill win
Photo: Coady Photography

The Todd Pletcher-trained Fearless created some stir with his victory Saturday in Race 10 at Churchill Downs, an allowance optional claimer comprised of older horses. With his closing run, he won by 2 ¼ lengths over the promising Top Seed and Gun It. 

Note how far back Fearless began the race. John Velazquez visibly urged Fearless out of the gate, but Fearless lagged and opted to settle toward the back through a crawling opening quarter in 24.62. 

After falling to last through a 49.27-second half mile, Fearless then began to pick off horses on the outside. Gun It moved first and hit the front on the far turn, but Fearless continued to gobble up ground while wide and met Gun It at the top of the stretch. 

On the wrong lead, Gun It had no answer for Fearless. Fearless gradually took advantage of Gun It's faulty running mechanics and drew clear in the stretch run, winning by 2 ¼ lengths. The inexperienced Top Seed passed Gun It for second, and Gun It held third. 

Some observers believe this 4-year-old gelding can become a factor in the graded stakes ranks. Only a few months ago, he finished sixth New Orleans Classic (G2).

But it might be time to attempt the graded stakes ranks again. Fearless won under a drive. In this instance, the urging is forgivable and not an indication he cannot move forward against better company because he overcame a slow pace as a deep closer. The flow of the race favored the front severely, meaning Fearless still ran impressively. 

Fearless only earned a 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure. But again, the slow early pace possibly affected the final time, and therefore the final speed figure. When the pace is extremely slow or fast, speed figures are less accurate in measuring performance. 

On the negative side, Fearless does need to work on breaking sharper and establishing a better early position. Overall, deep closers are disadvantaged in most dirt races. Even if they receive a pace setup, sometimes the traffic in large fields will compromise them. 

For what it is worth, Fearless did show speed in his optional claiming effort at Gulfstream on Feb. 1. He pressed the pace before taking over and winning by 8 ½ lengths.

Why did Fearless suddenly become a deep closer in his last two starts? Regardless, keep an eye on Fearless moving forward -- perhaps in the June 27 Stephen Foster (G2) -- as this 4-year-old gelding is still earning the game.

Setup works for Bell's the One

Bell's the One turned in a great closing run to capture the Winning Colors Stakes (G3) on Saturday at Churchill Downs, defeating both Break Even and the favored Mia Mischief in the process. However, keep in mind that she also benefited from a fast pace which set up that winning late kick.

Bell's the One was helped by Break Even and Mia Mischief.

At the start, Break Even went for the lead. But she ran harder than expected to secure the front, posting a swift opening quarter in 21.28. Mia Mischief chased Break Even through the fast pace in second while Sneaking Out took up the pocket position in third.

Those three runners were followed by Take Charge Angel in fourth and Unique Factor in fifth. Then came Bell's the One in sixth, eight lengths behind Break Even.

Check out the gap between Unique Factor and Bell's the One.

When the field fractures in two groups, the pace is fast.

Fractions and pace figures still work as the primary ways to judge pace. Beyond those two methods, handicappers can also look at how the field separates or groups together.

Break Even continued to lead the field around the turn under a confident hand ride, blasting through the half-mile in 44.51 as Mia Mischief began to inch closer under heavy urging.

As those two battled each other, Bell's the One wound up her run on the outside and took dead aim at Break Even and Mia Mischief. Break Even managed to put away Mia Mischief, but the early pace proved taxing and she let Bell's the One pass with little response back.

Bell's the One won by three lengths over Break Even, with another three 2 ½ lengths from Break Even back to Mia Mischief in third. The 25-1 longshot Unique Factor, who made her debut for trainer Peter Miller, finished fourth and only ¾ of a length behind Mia Mischief.

On TimeformUS, Bell's the One earned a 119 figure for the victory. Because of the fast pace scenario, she did not receive the highest figure on TimeformUS' scale. The honor belonged to Break Even, who earned a 122 (adjusted up from a 114) after setting the early pace.

Bell's the One is a quality closer who won against good horses. But take caution before betting this filly next time, as her price will come down after receiving a generous pace setup.

Despite finishing second, Break Even ran an excellent race. In the same vein as Serengeti Empress, though, this speedball does appear one-dimensional.

Although Mia Mischief had a fair chance to mow down Break Even for second, she failed to accelerate and burned money at 4/5. It is fair to hold some skepticism about her after this disappointing performance.

From a betting standpoint, all three horses are slightly flawed.

Secret Message takes Mint Julep, Juliet Foxtrot disappoints

What happened to Juliet Foxtrot in the Mint Julep?

At the start, Juliet Foxtrot broke well and went to the front as expected, with an eager Mitchell Road ready to keep her company. Rather than engage in a speed duel, Juliet Foxtrot let Mitchell Road cross over.

Juliet Foxtrot switched outside of Mitchell Road and chased the pacesetter comfortably in second, as Mitchell Road took the field through opening 23.70 and 48.27 fractions.

In other words, the pace was mild enough for Juliet Foxtrot.

On the far turn, Juliet Foxtrot began to attack Mitchell Road. But Juliet Foxtrot came under a ride and initially could not pass Mitchell Road.

Juliet Foxtrot and Mitchell Road were soon swallowed up by the closers in midstretch, with the 25-1 longshot Secret Message getting the best run on the outside. Under urging, Secret Message won by a head over La Signare, with Zofelle in third. Juliet Foxtrot faded to sixth, holding the position by a neck over the pacesetting Mitchell Road in seventh.

After upsetting this field, Secret Message isn't likely to start winning every graded turf stakes in sight. This is a moderate closer who is a step below the Grade 1 level. She ran well to pick up this Grade 3 race.

Juliet Foxtrot deserves another shot from bettors. Trainer Brad Cox usually fares well with horses off the layoff, but perhaps this 5-year-old mare needed one race, as did her stablemate Beau Recall in ninth.


Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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