Undefeated What a Pear the light of trainer's life

Despite the droplets of rain blowing into the shedrow and the gusts of wind adding a decided chill to the air, trainer Joe Parker was absolutely beaming inside of Barn 3 at Keeneland Friday morning.

One look at the chestnut filly nuzzling Parker's side and it wasn't hard to determine the source behind that happiness.

All one has to do to get Parker's face to light up these days is ask him about his undefeated charge What a Pear, who is scheduled to take on champion Stardom Bound and seven others in the Grade I Ashland Stakes on Saturday.

Trainers often speak of getting that one "big" horse that changes their career, and for Parker and his wife, Betsy, What a Pear might be just that.

Since winning her career debut at Aqueduct in December by half a length, the sweet-natured daughter of E. Dubai has been virtually unchallenged in her three subsequent triumphs, including a sublime 101/4-length victory in the 11⁄16-mile Busher Stakes at Aqueduct on Feb. 22.

To go from dominating minor stakes company to taking on a Grade I field is — to say the least — an ambitious jump. But in What a Pear, Parker sees the kind of potential most trainers dream of.

"Every race I've seen her run it's a different dimension. I'm still wondering what's next," Parker said Friday morning. "I'm excited to see what's going to happen tomorrow. I'm anxious to see what she's going to do next because I don't know how great she is.

"I have no idea how good she is because every race she's getting better and better."

What a Pear, owned by Tri-Bone Stables, has already established herself as quite possibly the best horse Parker has had in his care.

Parker, a 57-year-old native of Trinidad and Tobago, came to the United States in 1972 and got a job as a hot walker on the Aqueduct backstretch working for, among others, the late Dick Dutrow.

Since going out on his own in the 1990s, Parker has carved out a solid career with nine horses currently in training.

"My thing was soccer, but a couple of my friends were like, 'You should try the track,' and I fell in love with the horses," Parker said. "I love the game. It's a lot of fun, and look where it has taken me so far."

When What a Pear captured the Wistful Stakes on Feb. 1, it was the first career stakes win for Parker. And when she enters the starting gate Saturday, it will mark the first time the personable trainer has saddled a starter at Keeneland.

Although the filly has never so much as trained over a synthetic surface before, Parker figures if he wants to find out what she is made of, there is no sense in only dipping a toe in the water.

"I feel like if you have a good horse, that horse could run on anything," Parker said. "I'm hoping she takes to (the Polytrack), and if she does, it would be a horse race then. It shows in her form she's supposed to be in the race; she belongs here."

A win or even a credible effort on Saturday will probably earn What a Pear a trip to the Kentucky Oaks on May 1.

But the fact her image graces Parker's business cards these days speaks volumes to what she has come to mean to her connections.

"You don't want to jinx yourself and say, 'Oh I have best horse,' and all that. I'm going to let her do all the talking for us," Parker said. "I just want to lay back and enjoy this trip and see how far she can take us, because there is no telling."