09/06/2009 11:00PM

Graham doubles his pleasure at Arlington


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Monday morning, James Graham had won six graded stakes races in his career. By late in the afternoon, that total had grown to eight. After capturing the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Handicap in the sixth race here at Arlington aboard longshot Free Fighter, Graham piloted Hot Cha Cha to a hard-fought victory in the .

"Two Grade 3's in one day - that's the best I've had," said Graham, who is chasing Junior Alvarado for leading rider at the meet.

This was Hot Cha Cha's third trip this summer to Arlington from trainer Philip Sims's base at Keeneland, and after finishing fifth in the American 1000 Guineas in May, and third in the Arlington Oaks in July, Hot Cha Cha earned her first grass win in her fourth try.

Hot Cha Cha benefited from a rapid early pace that might well have cost favored Romacaca a win. Breaking from post 11, Romacaca set sail for the lead under E.T. Baird, but did not want to settle when rail-drawn Kiss Mine challenged her into the first turn.

"She wanted to keep going when that horse came up inside her," Baird said.

The opening quarter-mile went in a blazing 22.86 seconds, and though the pace then slowed, the leaders still passed through the first half-mile in 46.58, a taxing split in a 1 1/8-mile race. Hot Cha Cha, meanwhile, raced in ninth at the first call, but moved into striking position before the second turn. Graham steered outside for a clear run, and Hot Cha Cha engaged Romacaca before the eighth pole, but Romacaca ran on gamely, only wearing down the final half-furlong.

"I had to keep riding to get past her," Graham said."That's a tough filly"

Hot Cha Cha paid $13.40 to win, and was timed in 1:47.67 for the nine furlongs on firm turf. Single Solution, a 47-1 shot, rallied from last to finish third.

Former claimer takes Sea O'Erin

Public Speaker dropped down to the fence and came through a one-length winner in the , one of four stakes on an almost-all-turf Labor Day card here.

Trained by Dale Bennett and ridden by leading jockey Junior Alvarado, Public Speaker won for the second time here this summer after being claimed for $50,000 by Peter Karahalios at the Keeneland spring meet. Karahalios moved Public Speaker from trainer Becky Maker to Bennett after his most recent start on Aug. 1.

Public Speaker had finished eighth in the 1 1/4-mile Arlington Handicap and third in the 1 3/16-mile Rossi Gold here before turning back to one mile in the Sea O'Erin. Monday, he was sixth early before moving up past the three-eighths pole and coming with a strong stretch run that included a final furlong in less than 12 seconds.

Pacesetting Exchanging Kisses held second, 2 1/2 lengths in front of Demarcation. The winner paid $12.40, and was timed in 1:35.04 for one mile on firm turf.

Father Block knows best

The horse ran great, the ride was fine, the trainer had the animal well prepared. But apparently, a lot of credit for Free Fighter's upset in the goes to Dave Block. Block is trainer Chris Block's father, and the prime mover behind Team Block, Free Fighter's breeder.

"It was my dad s idea to run in here," Chris Block said after Free Fighter had notched a half-length win in the Grade 3, $125,000 Stars and Stripes. "It was strictly off pedigree."

The Stars and Stripes was contested over 1 1/2 miles, and in Free Fighter's lone start beyond 1 1/16 miles, he had finished sixth. But Block saw the combination of sire Out of Place and a dam, Taxable Deduction, who had run well in long-distance races, and thought Free Fighter would excel at the marathon distance. And that was a good call.

It also helped that Chicago is in the midst of its longest dry period of the summer. The turf here is as firm now as it has been all meet, and that is a plus for Free Fighter, who has flashed talent in the past, but only cleared his second allowance condition in his most recent start.

"He needs a firm turf," Chris Block said. "He cannot handle any give in the ground at all."

Free Fighter and Graham sat second much of the Stars and Stripes, as run-away-and-hide pacesetter Rumor Has it went off to a nine- or 10-length early lead, setting fractions of 25.82 seconds, 49.80, and 1:39.32. But Rumor Has It basically was done halfway around the third and final turn, attacked by Free Fighter and odds-on favorite Brass Hat past the three-furlong pole. But it was not the favorite who ran on best. With Brass Hat at his flank turning for home, Free Fighter and Graham kept solidly on, and pulled away in the final half-furlong.

Free Fighter, co-owned by Team Block and Tom Fedro, paid $23.80 to win, and was timed in 2:28.31. Brass Hat was 2 1/2 lengths better than third-place Caberneigh.

Second-choice Silverfoot never lifted a hoof, and finished a distant last.

"He seemed to be going fine, but it felt like I was out of horse at the three-eighths pole," jockey Chris Emigh said.

* Proceed Bee nosed out Quite a Handful to win the $52,400 Honor Glide Stakes. Giant Oak, the 6-5 favorite, finished third.