DEL MAR — Free House, the hard-running gray colt who overcame blue-collar bloodlines to win the Santa Anita Derby, the Santa Anita Handicap, the Pacific Classic and more than $3 million, died Tuesday of injuries suffered in a paddock accident at Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, Calif.
Free House, a 10-year-old who recently completed his fifth season at stud, died of a fractured skull less than two months after one of his daughters, House Of Fortune, won the Hollywood Oaks. House Of Fortune was Free House's first stakes winner as a stallion.
Although Free House didn't win any of the three races, he was a major factor in the 1997 Triple Crown series, which also featured Silver Charm, Touch Gold and Captain Bodgit. Silver Charm won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and Touch Gold captured the Belmont Stakes as Free House finished third, second and third, respectively. Only a pair of heads separated Silver Charm, Free House and Touch Gold in the Preakness.
Free House, who had beaten Silver Charm in the Santa Anita Derby, gained a measure of revenge in 1999 when he bested his familiar rival in the Santa Anita Handicap. He beat Touch Gold and Gentlemen, who had won the race the year before, in the 1998 Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Free House was a son of Smokester, a stallion so unpopular that breeders Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan were known to give breedings away. Free House, who was trained by Paco Gonzalez, had nine wins -- all but one of them in stakes -- five seconds and three thirds in 22 starts. His $3.1-million purse total ranks him fifth on the money list of California-breds. Free House was retired in 1999, after he ran second to Real Quiet in the Pimlico Special.
"It is an unfortunate loss," said Frank "Scoop" Vessels III, co-owner of Free House. "It is particularly upsetting, not only for [the owners], but also for the California breeding program and the thoroughbred industry as a whole."