Free Fighter, unplaced in two starts since upsetting the Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT) in May, is back to defend his title in the $100,000 Stars and Stripes Turf Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Arlington Park Aug. 21.
The Stars and Stripes is the first of four graded stakes on the Arlington Million program. It is the seventh race on the card with a post time of 3:06 p.m. CDT.
Trained by Chris Block for Illinois breeder Team Block and co-owner Thomas Fedro Sr., Free Fighter hasn't done much in two starts since his 12-1 tally in the 12-furlong Louisville over a yielding Churchill Downs turf course May 22. But the field he's facing in the Stars and Stripes, which was lengthened by a furlong to 1 5/8 miles this year, has no world-beaters.
There is only one other graded winner, Rumor Has It, who struck in the Kentucky Cup Turf (gr. IIIT) at 59-1 nearly two years ago. Only one member of the nine-horse field, Memorial Maniac, is coming into the race off a win, which was just his third in 24 starts.
In last year's Stars and Stripes, Free Fighter, a 5-year-old Out of Place gelding, stalked runaway pacesetter Rumor Has It, who opened an eight-length lead after a mile but soon faded. Free Fighter hooked up with Brass Hat in the homestretch and prevailed by a half-length. Free Fighter had just one more start last year, finishing sixth in Keeneland's Sycamore Stakes (gr. IIIT), and has won once in five starts so far this year.
That victory came in the Louisville by two lengths when Free Fighter rallied four wide and drove home impressively to defeat Bearpath and Brass Hat. He has raced twice since, both on the Arlington turf, finishing a troubled sixth in the Black Tie Affair Handicap against state breds June 19, then fading to eighth in the Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) a month later.
Francisco Torres, who teamed with Free Fighter in the Louisville, has the mount. Free Fighter, who carries top weight of 121 and spots the remainder of the field two pounds apiece, has won seven of 22 in his career with earnings of $308,271.
Perfect Shower, winner of last year's Breeders' Stakes, the final jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown for 3-year-olds at odds of 46-1 on the Woodbine turf, could be the main rival. Trained by Roger Attfield, the Charles Fipke homebred is comfortable with the distance and gets the services of jockey Ramon Dominguez.
Besides his win in the 1 1/2-mile Breeders', the 4-year-old son of Perfect Soul ran third in the 12-furlong Singspiel Stakes (Can-IIIT) at Woodbine in July. He is coming off a second in the John's Call Stakes at 1 5/8 miles at Saratoga Aug. 6. He displayed a good kick from the quarter pole to the wire only to miss by one length to proven stayer Always First.
Nine-year-old Rumor Has It has a stakes win on Arlington's turf course but has been off form since finishing fourth in this race last year.
Memorial Maniac, from the Larry Demeritte barn, snapped a long losing streak with his win on the Arlington turf over an optional claiming group at 1 1/16 miles July 23. James Graham returns to ride.
Improving Armstrong Mill, from the Christophe Clement stable for Overbrook Farm, may be ready for this step. The 4-year-old Dynaformer gelding ran third in last year's Saranac Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Saratoga and has finished in the money in nine of 10 lifetime starts.
Blushing Bear was sixth in the Louisville following a good third-place effort at 48-1 in the 12-furlong Elkhorn Stakes (gr. IIIT) on firm ground at Keeneland a month earlier. He had a 1 1/16-mile tightener at Monmouth Park for trainer James Dodgen July 17.
$100,000 Stars and Stripes Turf Stakes (gr. IIIT, Race 7, 3:06 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 5/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Big Al (FL), A Jaen, 119, M R Yanez
2. Perfect Shower (ON), R A Dominguez, 119, R L Attfield
3. Lemonade Kid (IL), J R Leparoux, 119, A Mitchell
4. Memorial Maniac (KY), J Graham, 119, L W Demeritte
5. Blushing Bear (KY), I Karlsson, 119, J A Dodgen
6. Armstrong Mill (KY), K Fallon, 119, C Clement
7. Rumor Has It (KY), M C Baze, 119, D H Hinsley
8. Free Fighter (IL), F C Torres, 121, C M Block
9. Weggie (IL), E E Perez, 119, C M Block