After a racing career that spanned 77 races over nine seasons, Illinois-bred Free Fighter has been retired. The ten-year-old son of Out of Place, out of Illinois blue hen Taxable Deduction, won three graded stakes races during his career: the Stars and Stripes Stakes (GIII) at Arlington in both 2009 and 2011, and the Louisville Handicap (GIII) at Churchill Downs in 2010. The durable local won 12 times and finished in the money another 31 times throughout his career, tallying total career earnings of $630,462.
Free Fighter debuts at Arlington on September 14, 2007. He rallied to cross the wire first, but stewards disqualified him to second for bumping in the stretch. He would win next time out at Hawthorne, the first of his twelve career victories.
Free Fighter did his best work going long. All three of his Grade III wins came at a mile and a half. Two of those victories came on the grass, the 2009 Stars and Stripes and the 2010 Louisville Handicap. His 2011 Stars and Stripes triumph came over the polytrack at Arlington, since the race was washed off the turf. This affinity for longer races characterized the progeny of his dam, Taxable Deduction. In addition to Free Fighter, Taxable Deduction produced two other Illinois-bred graded stakes winners: 2014 Kentucky Turf Cup (GIII) winner Suntracer (by Kitten’s Joy), and 2012 Pucker Up Stakes (GIII) winner Leading Astray (by Belong to Me). Both of those runners earned their graded triumphs going long on the grass.
Though Free Fighter raced mainly in the claiming and starter ranks at ages eight through ten, he showed endurance and tenacity on the racetrack throughout his career. The consistent chestnut gelding won at least one race every year he raced — from age two to age ten. This includes a gutsy victory in a $12,500 claiming turf route at Arlington on May 22 of this year. In that race he bided his time inside, split horses in the final furlong, and turned back a late run from Striking Hight to get home half a length to the good.
Free Fighter spent most of his career, 43 starts out of 77, with trainer Chris Block. Block trained Free Fighter when his career began, and conditioned him through his first two graded stakes wins. Free Fighter also ran under the auspices of veteran trainer Michael Reavis for 20 of his starts, including his second Stars and Stripes win as well as his final career win.
Breeders Team Block and trainer Chris Block claimed Free Fighter back after his final start on August 27. “It was wonderful to campaign a horse like that,” said Block. “You know he’s going to go up there every time, and give his best, beyond 100%. He was the type of horse, you could call upon him anytime there was a race that came up that he fit well in, he was there. He was one of those horses that loved to train, that enjoyed being a racehorse, did things with a smile on his face, and was a real joy to have in the barn and as part of our stable.”
Free Fighter gamely holds Brass Hat at bay to win the 2009 Stars and Stripes Turf Handicap (GIII), the first of his three graded stakes wins.
Free Fighter has been retired through Galloping Out. A joint effort with the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Arlington International Racecourse, and Hawthorne Race Course, Galloping Out is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to rehabilitate and retrain retiring racehorses at farms throughout the state and re-home them once they are ready to continue their lives off the track. It specifically serves horses who have raced at Arlington and Hawthorne, as well as Illinois-bred horses. In the five years since Galloping Out has begun, the organization has retired over local 140 horses to second careers. In his trainer’s eyes, Galloping Out was a natural avenue for Free Fighter’s retirement. “It’s been an easy decision for Team Block, and the other owners that I train for, to support the program not only financially but also by putting horses in there who we think would benefit the program well.” Block has been on the board since 2010, when it began under the leadership of longtime ITHA member and thoroughbred racehorse owner Nate Ruffolo. He moved into the role of president when Ruffolo stepped down.
What does Block think Free Fighter will do now that his racing days have ended? “He kind of strikes me as a horse with a lot of presence. He’s a very proud horse. I think that somewhere you might see him in a hunter-jumper class. I’d be proud to see that. I think there’s a lot of prospect there for that horse to live a great life on out from racing, and I think he’ll be successful just like he was at the racetrack in whatever he goes off and does.”
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