07/28/2008 12:00AM

Free Fighter's wake-up call


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - When Free Fighter won an entry-level turf allowance at Fair Grounds by more than four lengths this past February, his connections had good reason to envision a highly productive season. Free Fighter had just dusted open allowance competition at a mid-major racetrack, and there he was, an Illinois-bred with all sorts of options over the summer and through the fall.

Four races and almost six months later, and the Free Fighter picture looks a lot different. He comes into the featured fourth race on Wednesday at Arlington Park with nothing more than a third-place finish since the Fair Grounds win, but Free Fighter stands a good chance of turning his career back in the right direction as the favorite in a second-level Illinois-bred allowance race.

"This race was there for him, and the plan is to try and get him back on track," trainer Chris Block said Monday morning.

Free Fighter was one of seven horses entered in a 1 1/16-mile Polytrack race, and on raw talent, he surely is the best of the bunch. Left far in his wake in that Fair Grounds grass race was Sr. Henry, who finished second this month in the Grade 2 American Derby, and is being pointed to the Secretariat here next month.

After leaving New Orleans, where he was trained by Richie Scherer, Free Fighter finished a tough-trip fifth in an off-the-turf Keeneland stakes, floundered over boggy going in a Churchill turf stakes, failed to fire here in the American Derby, and rallied for a wide third July 5 in a Canterbury Park grass stakes.

Wednesday's race marks Free Fighter's first start against Illinois-breds, and he should make hay on the class drop. Seven of his eight races have come on turf, but Block said the Polytrack fifth at Keeneland was a solid enough performance.

"He got started too late with the short stretch there," Block said. "I'm not saying he wins it, but he comes a lot closer. He's not a push-button horse; you've got to gear him up for the run."

Call Me Goer, the logical second choice, might have a quicker late punch than Free Fighter, but tends to leave himself too much to do by losing contact with the early leaders. Call Me Goer does, however, like Polytrack, and was overmatched when he finished eighth in his last start, the Black Tie Affair Handicap on turf.