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Free Fighter Upsets Grade III Stars and Stripes Field

| Churchill Downs Communications | 09/07/2009 #

Illinois-foaled Free Fighter, owned by Tom Fedro Sr. & Team Block, split horses near the top of the stretch to take command and hold off a late rally from 4-5 favorite Brass Hat to win the Grade III $125,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap by a half-length on Monday at Arlington Park. James Graham rode the Chris Block-trained son of Out of Place who covered the mile and a half over firm turf in 2:28.31.

Speedster Rumor Has It bolted out to a double-digit early lead through quick fractions for a mile and a half race of 25.82, 49.80, 1:13.92 and 1:39.32 before fading well back in the stretch.

Graham meanwhile had Free Fighter at the head of the rest of the field, making up ground on the turns before gaining the advantage turning into the stretch for the final time and holding off the favorite for the victory, his sixth in 16 starts overall but his first in stakes competition. The tally was worth $74,250 to boost his bankroll to $234,636.

"Chris said just let him be the leader of the main group," Graham said. "I opened up on them down this side (the first time). By the turn Brass Hat had come to me and we started picking it up together. He held on real well to win it."

It was another 2 ½ lengths back to third-place finisher Caberneigh, followed by Rumor Has It, Guadlacanal and defending champion Silverfoot to complete the order of finish.

"He felt great for me, but when I asked him for run he was tired," said Chris Emigh, Silverfoot's rider. "I felt that I was out of horse at the three-eighths pole, and that is all I can say, is that he felt tired."

Free Fighter, sent off at odds of more than 10-1 paid $23.80, $6.40 and $4. Brass Hat returned $2.60 and $2.10. Caberneigh paid $3.80.

Earlier in the day, William Stiritz's Proceed Bee got up in the final stride to overtake Quite a Handful in the $52,400 Honor Glide Stakes. Chris Emigh rode the Scott Becker-trained son of Bernstein to the victory, clocked in 1:49.66 for the mile and an eighth over the inner turf course. He paid $9.60, $5.40 and $2.80.