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Sand Teaches An Old Dog New Tricks

Published: June 16, 2018 2:15 pm ET

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The last time Fearless Man tried the 1-1/4-mile Open Handicap Trot at Yonkers Raceway on February 25, the result wasn’t inspiring. After getting away third, Fearless Man became hot and aggressive as horses passed him on the outside. He faded from the scene and finished eighth, beaten 22-1/2 lengths.

Since then, trainer Andrew Harris says that Fearless Man has become more manageable on the track and in the morning. He’s won two local Open Handicaps this year and Harris believes the eight-year-old gelding has earned another chance at the 10-furlong distance. Fearless Man will start from post six in the $54,800 trotting feature Sunday (June 17).

“It seems like he’s learned. We can back down the half and Jason (Bartlett) sat him in a two-hole and said he can absolutely relax in the two-hole, so now I’m very confident he can handle the mile-and-a-quarter,” Harris said. “I avoided a couple of them; when there was a mile-and-a-quarter race I just didn’t race him that week. We’ve got a summer full of them coming up, so we’re going try him again and see what happens.”

Fearless Man, owned by Rick Zeron Stable, Noblock Racing Stable, Murray Greenfield, and Cool Cat Racing, came to Harris this winter. As Zeron headed to Florida to train babies, he approached Harris with the unexpected offer.

“Rick Zeron called me earlier in the year and just said, ‘hey, I got a trotter with a lot of back class. Would you mind taking him and trying him at Yonkers? I think he’d be a real good fit over there.’ So obviously you don’t turn down a horse like that,” Harris said.

Fearless Man was a stakes-winning two- and three-year-old in Indiana for Bobby Brower before posting a lifetime mark of 1:52.1 for Monte Gelrod at Harrah’s Philadelphia in 2014. In his career, Fearless Man has won 37 races and earned $703,771. Although the son of Elegant Man had been racing in the conditions on the Woodbine Circuit the last couple years, Harris saw the potential for Fearless Man to become an open-type at Yonkers.

“I had seen before Rick had even gotten him that he’d gone a 52-mile at Chester. I knew there was definitely some real talent there, but he is eight years old and coming off a couple seasons when he wasn’t at the open level, I didn’t know which way he’d go,” Harris said. “For him, that shorter stretch is a benefit to him where at Woodbine, that long stretch, he’d be real dominant that first eighth of the stretch, but the last eighth, he got a little weary. I think the half-mile track has really picked him up.”

When Fearless Man first came to Harris’ stable, he was overly aggressive and behaved more like a high-strung thoroughbred than a standardbred gelding. Harris took advantage of the facilities at White Birch Farm to help manage the trotter’s excitable attitude on the track.

“He was actually a very aggressive horse, so the first time I sat behind him, I was like, ‘woah.’ He was really grabby,” Harris said. “His gate speed is unbelievable, that’s why he’s so good at Yonkers. It’s just so easy for him. By nature, he’s an aggressive horse.

“We do approach him a little differently because we don’t train him as much as the other ones,” Harris continued. “When I first got him, I trained him a little bit more just trying to get some spit and vinegar out of him, but I realized that wasn’t going to be the key for him. We’re lucky we’re at White Birch and we have a big, huge sand track. They just don’t seem to pull on that. After about a lap, they realize that’s work and they back off a lot. He really calmed down a lot jogging that sand track.”

Training in the deep sand track at White Birch hasn’t just settled Fearless Man’s demeanor, it’s also meant the trotter is much more fit. He has bulked up and put on weight since he’s came to Harris. “Obviously the sand track has just put a massive amount of muscle on him,” the trainer said.

Fearless Man has won five of 14 starts since coming to Harris’ stable and Jason Bartlett has been in the sulky for four or those wins. Harris says the unlikely pairing between the horse and driver has played a key role in the trotter’s local success.

“Jason just gets along with him unbelievable,” Harris said. “Jason is kind of an aggressive driver and this is an aggressive horse. Nine times out of 10, that doesn’t work, but Jason gets along with him really well. He just has him figured out. Sometimes horses just fit certain drivers and he just fits Jason.”

Bartlett will drive Fearless Man as a 7-1 shot in Sunday’s Open Handicap Trot, his first time sitting behind the trotter since May 5, when Fearless Man last won. He’ll face nine rivals, including 3-1 favourite In Secret, who finished second in the Charlie Hill Memorial at Scioto last out, and 7-2 second choice Tight Lines, who won last week’s local trotting feature in 1:54.

“It’s a mile-and-a-quarter race which is always a question with a hot horse, but for whatever reason in these mile-and-a-quarter races they don’t seem to go to the quarter as fast,” Harris said. “I don’t know what Jason will do, but he might be able to secure the front easy. He’ll definitely get to dictate what he wants to do because that’s just how this horse is. I’m sure Jason will put him in contention, that’s for sure.”

Sunday’s 10-race card at Yonkers features four French trots with the Open Handicap slated at race one. First post time is 12:35 p.m.

(SOA of NY)


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