On what is generally a quiet weekend on the graded stakes front, one of the most intriguing duels this weekend involves Fearless vs. Mighty Heart, who led the parade into Saturday’s Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream Park.

Fearless-Harlan's Holiday
Fearless, shown here winning the Gulfstream Mile, won three of his last four races at Gulfstream. He comes in as one of the horses to beat in Saturday’s Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday Stakes. (Image: Lauren King/Coglianese Photos)

The 1 1/16-mile Harlan’s Holiday is the primary prep for next month’s $3 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational. It shares top billing with the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale, a 1 1/8-mile prep for the $1 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational.

Sharing top billing in the Harlan’s Holiday are Todd Pletcher’s Fearless and Josie Carroll’s Canadian invader, Mighty Heart. Both come in seeking to prove their last starts were burps in the universe.

Fearless comes into the Harlan’s Holiday off a runner-up finish in the Miami Gardens handicap. That loss by a length to Girolamo’s Attack as the even-money favorite snapped a three-race winning streak at Gulfstream. It also came in his second start after a six-month layoff.

Fearless is exactly that at Gulfstream Park

The 5-year-old gelding came into that layoff after a third in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special Preakness weekend. He hasn’t missed the board in five races, dating to a sixth in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in June 2020.

“He likes the track and he ran a good race off the layoff, so we’re thinking that should set him up good for the Harlan’s Holiday,” Pletcher told Gulfstream Park.

Fearless brings a 4-3-1 record in 10 starts into the Harlan’s Holiday. Because he’s such a large horse, he didn’t make his debut until the end of his 3-year-old season — in December 2019. That produced a maiden special weight victory on the first try. He followed with a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming score in his next race.

That early success didn’t hide how difficult Fearless was to train, not just from a character standpoint. He’s such a big horse that Pletcher had to wait until he was manageable before sending him out.

Size, ‘equipment’ mattered in Fearless’ development

“I remember him as a yearling, and the one concern was — how big he was,” Pletcher said. “Fortunately, he hasn’t grown a lot. He was big enough to begin with. He was a horse that the guys at WinStar (Farm) said was a difficult horse to break and get ready. He’s been gelded and, since then, his behavior has been good and he’s been consistent.”

Consistent defines Mighty Heart, the one-eyed Ontario-bred who captivated his native country last year when he won the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown. Alas, Mighty Heart wasn’t fond of turf, finishing seventh in the third leg at the Breeders’ Stakes, at Woodbine.

Mighty Heart rebounded nicely. In his last seven races, the 4-year-old son of Dramedy missed the board once, posting a fourth in the Grade 3 Durham Cup at Woodbine two starts ago. Mighty Heart rectified that performance by winning the Grade 2 Autumn Stakes on Nov. 14

“In his prior race, he blew a shoe and didn’t show up. We figured something went wrong,” Carroll said. “Coming back, we were expecting him to run well.”

Mighty Heart ready for Harlan’s Holiday

In his last eight races since that seventh, Mighty Heart is 3-2-1. He hasn’t finished worse than fourth, and only once in that span did he fail to clock a triple-digit Equibase Speed Figure. He comes in off a 1:00.90, five-furlong work that was third of nine running that distance at Palm Meadows on Dec. 10.

“He’s obviously run well on synthetic, but he’s also run really well on dirt,” Carroll said. “He won the Prince of Wales on dirt. When he ran great at Churchill Downs when he won the Blame. His race at Keeneland (a third in an April allowance) was also very good.”