SoCal Horse Racing Legend: Free House

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D.S. Williamson

July 29th, 2015

If there is a single horse that not only epitomized SoCal Racing in the late 1990's but also the SoCal Underground Club Scene during that time, it had to be Free House. Owned by Trudy McCaffrey and John Toffan and trained by J. Paco Gonzalez, it's difficult to know why or how Free House got his name. But the name is truly one that worked perfectly with the burgeoning Los Angeles House Music Scene that developed in the late 1990's, the music of choice for many of Generation X.

House is a type of music that people throughout the world know and love today. Back in the late 1990's, it was still played by DJ's like Doc Martin in warehouses in the Garment District in Downtown Los Angeles. On Saturdays, horseplayers who were also into the Underground Club Scene, I was in my mid-20's when Free House ran, would bet on races at Santa Anita, have dinner, and then head to the Garment District to listen to not only Doc, but to also listen to DJ's like Hawkeye and DJ Lillyanne. It's fitting that one of the greatest California bred horses to ever run in the state is named Free House. House DJ's will tell you that they believe that their music is free, that their music is for the masses. Again, I'm not sure why McCaffrey and Toffan named the brilliant son of Smokester Free House. But to people like me, who understand both worlds well, the name of the horse has a special meaning.

It helped that Free House delivered in almost every race in which he entered. In 5 races as a 2 year-old, Free House finished second his first ever lifetime race, won his second lifetime race and then won the Norfolk Stakes in his third lifetime race. His three-year-old campaign showed exactly how good he was when he won the San Felipe Stakes and beat the Bob Baffert trained Silver Charm in the 1997 Santa Anita Derby. Free House would lose to Silver Charm in both the 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He lost to Touch Gold in the 1997 Belmont Stakes. Although Free House didn't win a classic race, he did finish in the money in all three races, including losing by less than a head in the 1997 Preakness Stakes.

In 1998, he garnered revenge over Tough Gold by beating that one in the Pacific Classic. He also beat Gentleman. Both Touch Gold and Gentleman were going off at around even money in that race while Free House went off at over 3 to 1. Free House's best race of his career was the 1999 Santa Anita Handicap. The race epitomized the horse. Ridden by David Flores in the Derby, Kent Desormeaux in the Preakness and the Belmont, by the time Free House had run in the Pacific Classic, Chris McCarron had taken over riding duties.

McCarron rode Free House upfront and loose in the 1999 Big Cap. Free House was best when McCarron let him run the way that his name suggested. The great Cal bred's style was about being free that usually put him either on or near the lead. There was also something else special about Free House. He ran without blinkers. Free House glared at his competition. He let everyone know who the alpha was on the track. Although it's difficult to find a close-up photo of Free House in the 1999 Big Cap, one that I've purchased shows him glaring at Event of the Year as that rival desperately tries to close the gap against him. A free running thoroughbred with the perfect name to describe House Music, a style of music that belongs to Generation X, and one of that greatest California bred horses of all time, that was Free House.