Free Fighter seized the lead from Eagle Poise coming into the stretch and drew off in the lane to produce a determined upset at odds of 12-1 in the $113,800 Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO), contested over a yielding Churchill Downs turf course May 22.
Francisco Torres guided Team Block's 5-year-old Illinois homebred to victory for trainer Chris Block. The Out of Place gelding, owned in partnership with Thomas Fedro Sr., defeated Bearpath by two lengths while completing the 1 1/2-mile test in 2:31.30. Brass Hat finished 1 1/4 lengths farther back in third.
Out of the money in two prior starts over the Churchill lawn, Free Fighter raced up close while four wide as Telling, the 5-2 favorite in the field of 10, wrestled with Eagle Poise on the front end through a walking half-mile in :51.25 and a 1:41.45 mile. Free Fighter, still four wide, challenged for the lead with three furlongs to run, then got clear in the stretch to open up a three-length lead over the late-arriving Brass Hat at the eighth pole.
As Bearpath and jockey Frederic Lenclud made their presence felt on the outside, Free Fighter stayed clear while finishing under consistent urging from Torres. Bearpath finished willingly to be a clear second over Brass Hat, who took a wide journey and flattened out late for jockey Tony Farina, who replaced an injured Calvin Borel.
Silver Mountain was 2 1/2 lengths back in fourth, a neck in front Telling. Then came Blushing Bear, Eagle Poise, Silverfoot, March to Victory and Hidden Glance.
“Couldn’t draw it any better," Torres said of his trip aboard Free Fighter. "I had two horses in front of me and my horse was relaxed. He was just waiting for me to push the button. When I pushed the button, he responded turning for home and he kind of opened up; it was catch me if you can and they didn’t.
"When you go so slow fractions you have to sprint off and wait for them at the three-eighths pole to go on and steal the race and I did. I let my horse jump on the bridle and at the three-eighths pole I caught them and bolted to the quarter pole.”
Winner of the 12-furlong Stars n Stripes Handicap (gr. IIIT) over the Arlington Park turf last September, Free Fighter was unplaced in two prior starts this year. In his most recent try, he finished last of six April 5 in a nine-furlong allowance race at Keeneland. Free Fighter earned $67,028 for the victory, his seventh in 20 lifetime starts. His career earnings stands at $305,878.
"He’s an Illinois-bred and we entered him last week for a race at Arlington for Illinois-breds but it was rained off the turf so we brought him here," said co-owner David Block. "The rest is history. He loves the mile-and-a-half distance and if he runs in anything shorter he flattens out. Churchill Downs is his favorite track."
The winning chestnut is out of the Prized mare Taxable Deduction.
Free Fighter carried 115 pounds and paid $27.20, $12.40, and $8, topping a $138.80 exacta as the sixth choice in the field. Bearpath, winner of the Pan American Stakes at Gulfstream Park in March for trainer Ian Wilkes, returned $6.80 and $4.60. The popular 9-year-old Brass Hat shouldered top weight of 119 pounds and paid $2.80 to show.
"When I was turning for home, he felt like a winner," Farina said of Brass Hat. "He was just a little tired the last sixteenth of a mile.”
Spy in the Sky scratched.