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Arlington Park

Arlington Park Barn Notes (6/13/10)

Contact: Graham Ross
graham.ross@arlingtonpark.com

In today's notes:

FREE FIGHTER, APPLE MARTINI SET FOR PRAIRIE STATE’S TURF STAKES

After saddling 15 winners during the first decade of Arlington’s Prairie State Festival, trainer Chris Block is going into this Saturday’s renewal of the six-stakes series restricted to Illinois-registered foals with guns blazing once again.

Chief among those Block trainees slated to run this weekend is Thomas Fedro Sr. and Team Block’s Free Fighter, hero of Churchill Downs’ grassy Grade III Louisville Handicap at last asking May 22.

Free Fighter, a 5-year-old gelding, breezed an easy half-mile in 49 flat at Arlington Sunday morning in advance of Saturday’s $100,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap, to be run at 1 1/16 miles over Arlington’s world famous turf course.

“Free Fighter went fine,” said Block, who saddled Team Block’s Fort Prado – Illinois Horse of the Year in 2006 – to win four of the last five renewals of the Black Tie Affair. “This morning was pretty much of a maintenance move. Junior Alvarado, who will ride him Saturday, was aboard for the work. I wanted to give him a chance to get a feel of the horse because it will be the first time he has ridden him.”

Should Free Fighter perform up to expectations in the Black Tie Affair, Block plans to point the Louisville Handicap winner to the Grade III Arlington Handicap July 17 on Million Preview Day. That 10-furlong grass test serves as the designed prep for the Grade I Arlington Million XXVIII on Aug. 21.

Also on the work tab for Block Sunday morning was Virginia Tarra’s Apple Martini, a 5-year-old mare who breezed four furlongs in 49:20 in advance of Saturday’s $100,000 Lincoln Heritage Handicap, restricted to fillies and mares over the local lawn and also at the 1 1/16-mile distance.

“She’s all set to go Saturday,” said Block. “There’s also an outside chance I might run (Team Block’s) Lakeaway in the Lincoln Heritage, but I would say she’s 50-50 at best.”

Apple Martini, incidentally, is a full sister to Virginia Tarra’s Giant Oak, who finished a late-closing fourth in Saturday’s Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.

“I thought he ran big,” said Block. “He gives it all he’s got every time he goes out there, and I thought he hung in there pretty good. I’m proud of him. He loves that (Churchill) track and he gave a good showing yesterday.”

JOCKEY JULIO FELIX RIDES $101.40 WINNER AT ARLINGTON

Jockey Julio Felix figures that he is approaching the 2,500-win milestone in his two-decade career, but is riding at Arlington for the first time this summer and remained somewhat under the local radar until Saturday’s fifth race.

That was when he rode Tower Farm’s Leading Indicator to a length and three-quarters victory for trainer Doug Matthews to light up the tote board with a $101.40 win price – highest so far of the 2010 meeting at Chicago’s northwest suburban oval.

“I’ve always been known as the ‘longshot kid’ at the other places I’ve ridden,” said Felix Sunday morning. “Maybe the people here in Chicago will start calling me that, now.”

Felix, 40, was born in The Bronx, New York, while his father, in the military, was in Vietnam, but Felix was raised in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, where his family was from.

“I started my career in the Virgin Islands, but moved to Miami to ride at Calder while I still had the bug,” said Felix. “I did well there, but there were a lot of other good bug riders like Willie Martinez down there at the time, so I took my tack to Cleveland while I still had the advantage of the apprentice allowance. I did well at Thistledown – I rode 200 winners my first year there, was leading jockey six times and jockey of the year four times at Thistledown – but I probably became too comfortable in Cleveland, because it took me too long to try Kentucky.

“When I finally did, I did quite well at Turfway Park,” Felix said. “I probably should have stayed in Kentucky and gone on to Churchill, but instead I ended up in Indiana last summer – where I also did well – but I still wanted to try a bigger circuit.

“I made the decision to come to Chicago last winter, and when I first arrived at Hawthorne I did well there,” said Felix. “Now, I’m holding my own here at Arlington, considering it’s my first time on this circuit, but I’ve quickly come to love it here in Chicago and next month I’m moving my family up here from Northern Kentucky.

“My wife’s name is Greta, and we have two children: an 11-year-old daughter named Aliah and a six-year-old son named Julius,” concluded Felix. “I asked him the other day if he wanted to be a jockey when he grew up but he said, ‘No, Dad, I want to be a race car driver and drive fast cars around the track all day.’”

- END -

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