08/19/2010 1:51PM

Free Fighter should profit from distance in Stars and Stripes

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Free Fighter has been zigging when horseplayers are zagging. The Team Block colorbearer won the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes at Arlington Park last September at nearly 11-1 and the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs this spring at 12-1. Meanwhile, he has been the beaten favorite four times in his last 11 starts.

Trainer Chris Block knows not what to make of this maddening inconsistency, other than to maybe tie it to distance. Both the Stars and Stripes and Louisville are turf marathons, while those four losses as the favorite came at 1 1/16 miles or shorter.

“I’m convinced he just needs to go further,” said Block.

At 1 5/8 miles, the 79th Stars and Stripes on the Arlington Million program Saturday should be what Free Fighter wants. The 5-year-old homebred gelding is the morning-line favorite in a field of nine older horses, and Block is hopeful he can rebound off an eighth-place finish in a tough recent running of the Arlington Handicap. Francisco Torres has the mount.

“He can do better than that, especially with more ground,” said Block.

A handful of capable challengers will oppose Free Fighter, including Perfect Shower, a stretch-running Canadian invader who will have Ramon Dominguez aboard, and Armstrong Mill, a steady Christophe Clement trainee who gets Kieran Fallon.

The Stars and Stripes, the former longtime Fourth of July feature at Arlington, is one of two undercard stakes on a blockbuster day. It directly precedes the three International Festival of Racing events (races 8-10) as the seventh of 12 races, while the Hatoof Stakes follows them as race 11.

The Hatoof drew 11 3-year-old fillies, with Dominguez getting the call from Arlington’s leading trainer, Wayne Catalano, aboard the morning-line favorite, Chantilly Nayla. Exiting a one-turn Polytrack race, Chantilly Nayla figures prominently from the outset of the one-mile turf race from post 8.

Silent Candy, Ocean Surge, and the Jerry Jamgotchian entry of Distorted Promise and Morekissesforpatti also figure in the mix.