The 4-year-old gelded son of Ghostzapper suggested he may be ready to show he belongs among high-caliber older horses after rallying from last to first to win an allowance optional claiming race by 2 1/4 lengths on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
“There is some potential there,” Pletcher said, “and hopefully we can continue to bring him forward.”
The most recent start underscores how much of a project Fearless, a $725,000 purchase at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, has been for Pletcher and owners China Horse Club and WinStar Farm.
Despite jockey John Velazquez’s visible and vigorous attempt to rouse him early, Fearless failed to respond and dropped back to last. Yet he overcame that poor position and sluggish fractions for a relatively easy 2 1/4-length victory at a mile and a sixteenth suggesting he's on the verge of a breakthrough.
“Any time you see a horse make a big sustained closing run when they come from that far back in a pretty slow-paced race, he had everything working against him and was still able to win going away in the end. So, yeah, I thought it was an impressive race,” Pletcher said.
Last to first for #7 Fearless in Race 10May 30, 2020
The opening quarter went in a sluggish 24.62 seconds and the half in 49.72 seconds before Fearless got serious and gained his third victory to go with a second-place finish through five starts. He has earned $118,520.
“He’s still got a few quirks about him,” Pletcher said. “If he’ll break a little better, put himself in a little better position, he’s got the ability level to get to the next stage.”
The trainer described Fearless as an “interesting” horse. He also might have chosen the adjectives “exasperating,” “maddening” or “mercurial.”
How to figure out a slow-to-develop horse that was on the engine for his debut, on Dec. 22 at six furlongs at Gulfstream Park, and yet has been unwilling to do anything but settle well behind slower opponents in his last two starts? He came on for second in a May 2 allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park, at a mile and a sixteenth, before his Churchill score.
“It surprises me when you look at his last two races, as far back as he’s been off the pace, to think he won his debut going six furlongs essentially wire-to-wire,” Pletcher said.
The 1 1/4-mile Suburban has a rich history in New York and will carry a $200,000 purse as one of the highlights of the Independence Day card. It would mark Fearless’ second graded stakes try. He ran an undistinguished fifth – moved up a notch through a disqualification – when By My Standards won the March 21 New Orleans Classic Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds.
Pletcher likes the timing of the Suburban and views that as a potential steppingstone to Grade 1 competition.
“We’ll see how he trains the next couple of weeks,” he said, “but that’s on the radar.”