07/23/2011 6:24PM

Arlington: Free Fighter's second Stars and Stripes win a new experience

Four-Footed Fotos
Free Fighter wins the Stars and Stripes for the second time, but on a new surface, after Saturday's 1 1/2-mile race was shifted from turf to the main track.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Free Fighter won the Stars and Stripes in 2009, but his second victory in the race, a two-length score over Winchester on Saturday at Arlington Park, came under much different circumstances. This Stars and Stripes was forced from turf to the main track by record-setting rainfall, and where Free Fighter was owned by Team Block and trained by Chris Block two summers ago, Mike Reavis trained him to victory for Frank Mancari on Saturday. Mancari purchased Free Fighter privately shortly after the horse was claimed for $62,500 from the Blocks by trainer Bryan Lynch on March 31 at Gulfstream Park.

Trainer Christophe Clement left odds-on favorite Winchester in the Stars and Stripes despite the rain-off, and while Winchester rallied for second in his 2011 debut, he failed to produce his best form while making his first start on a synthetic surface.

“It was different than on the grass,” said jockey Cornelio Velasquez. “Every race he’s accelerating, accelerating. Today, he was one-paced.”

Free Fighter’s first race for his present connections, in the Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs, offered little cause for optimism, with Free Fighter last by more than 31 lengths. But he bounced back to finish third in the Black Tie Affair Handicap and a close fourth in the Arlington Handicap just two weeks ago before breaking through in the $100,000 Stars and Stripes./

“I put him in here just to see,” Reavis said. “I knew it was his distance, and I wasn’t worried about the Polytrack.”

Free Fighter got a tracking trip in fourth as Kingofthebluegrass made a surprising early move under Junior Alvarado to seize the early lead from Proceed Bee. The pace was quick, 47.94 seconds to the half-mile, and into the third and final turn the closers ganged up on the leaders. Proceed Bee ran on best among the top tier, but Free Fighter took his measure at the three-sixteenths pole and never was threatened. He ran 1 1/2 miles in 2:31.98 and paid $20.60 to win. Proceed Bee, edged for second by Winchester, and was followed by Hattash, Lemonade Kid, Kingofthebluegrass, and Getta Rhythm.

Free Fighter, a 6-year-old Illinois-bred gelding, is a son of Out of Place and the mare Taxable Deduction.