Free Fighter, with James Graham aboard, outfought 9-10 favorite Brass Hat through a long stretch battle to produce a half-length victory in the $125,000 Stars and Stripes Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) at Arlington Park Sept. 7.
The 4-year-old Illinois-bred son of Out of Place tallied his first stakes victory for trainer Chris Block and owners Team Block and Thomas Fedro Sr. In his first try at 1 1/2 miles, Free Fighter scored a 10-1 upset over the 8-year-old veteran stakes winner Brass Hat, who was ridden by Jon Court. The final time was 2:28.31 over firm turf.
Free Fighter settled in behind the runaway early leader Rumor Has It, who led by eight lengths after one mile, but gave way soon after that. Brass Hat made a three-wide move on the final turn to get the lead. But he could not overcome Free Fighter, who rallied between horses to lead heading into the stretch and dug in gamely in deep stretch to win. It was 2 1/2 lengths back to third-place finisher Caberneigh, who was followed by Rumor Has It, Guadalcanal, and Silverfoot, the 9-year-old gelding who went off as the 5-2 second choice.
“I opened up on them down this side (the first time)," Graham said. "By the turn Brass Hat had come to me and we started picking it up together. He held on real well to win it.”
Fractions were :25.82, :49.80, 1:13.92, and 1:39.32.
Bred by Team Block, Free Fighter is out of Taxable Deduction, by Prized. Free Fighter was coming off a second-level allowance win over the Arlington turf at 1 1/16 miles Aug. 15. The chestnut gelding earned $74,250 for his sixth lifetime win in 16 starts and boosted his career purse total to $234,636.
Sent off as the fourth choice in the field of six, Free Fighter carried 114 pounds and paid $23.80, $6.40, and $4. Brass Hat, who was coming off a third-place finish in Saratoga's Sword Dancer (gr. IT) for trainer Buff Bradley, returned $2.60 and $2.10 and was part of a $2 exacta worth $53. Caberneigh, ridden by Junior Alvarado, was $3.80 to show.