by JoAnn Guidry

When it comes to Thoroughbred racing, there is a lot to be said for consistency and persistence. Racehorses who embody those qualities are beloved by owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms and everyone else associated with them. And Old Warriors definitely fit into that category. Year after year, race after race, they deliver.

Case in point is the Florida-bred quintet who earned their Old Warriors badge in 2023: Yes I Am Free, Bluefield, Chess Master, Max K. O. and Roaring Forties. All are 7-year-olds with Yes I Am Free, Chess Master and Roaring Forties being geldings, Max K. O. is reportedly headed to stud and Bluefield is the lone mare. Each has logged long careers, mostly competing in the claiming and allowance ranks but dipping a hoof into stakes company on occasion. Chess Master has made the most career starts to date with 49 followed by Max K.O. with 47.

Yes I Am Free has posted the most successful stakes career, posting a pair of graded stakes wins, two black-type stakes wins and four black-type stakes placings. Yes I Am Free also to date has banked the most career earnings with $695,674.

The Florida-breds who earn the annual Old Warriors badges have to be at least 7-years-old and have won at least one black type stakes during the year. Here’s a look at the 2023 Old Warriors and their qualifying seasons through December 10, 2023.

Consistent describes graded stakes winner Yes I Am Free perfectly. The 7-year-old gelding bred by Sherry R. Mansfield and Kenneth H. Davis, was a dependable racing machine on the 2023 season. He made eight starts, posting three wins, including one graded stakes victory, and four seconds, to bank $272,780. The latter being the most the gelding has earned in a season to date. And to add to that consistency, Yes I Am Free won the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint for the second consecutive year.

Yes I Am Free

Photo by Ryan Thonpson

Owned by Golden Kernel Racing Stable, Yes I Am Free opened the season after a five-month layoff on Jan. 19 in a second condition, $62,500 optional claiming allowance turf race at Gulfstream Park. Showing his competitor’s heart, Yes I Am Free won by a determined nose. Winning time for the five-furlong dash was :54.60. It was a good tuneup for the Laura Cazares-trained runner.

On Feb. 11, Yes I Am Free entered the starting gates for the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint with his connections hoping for a repeat of his 2022 victory in the same event. Yes I Am Free did not disappoint. Taking the immediate lead out of the gates, Yes I Am Free posted opening fractions of :21.75 and :44.33 with Caratori and Shekky Shebaz in pursuit. But there was no catching Yes I Am Free, who won by a half-length in :55.71 for the five furlongs over a firm course. Caratori and Shekky Shebaz had to settle for second and third, respectively. The victory was the 11th win in 25 career starts to date for Yes I Am Free.

Following his second Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes triumph, Yes I Am Free posted a pair of black-type seconds. He was a runner-up to Big Invasion in the listed Silks Run on March 18 at Gulfstream Park, a race he won in 2022. That was followed by a second by a neck to Necker Island in the $206,500 Mighty Beau on June 18 at Ellis Park. In between those two races, he won the $60,000 Sunny Isle overnight handicap by three-and-a-quarter lengths on April 29 at Gulfstream Park.

On Aug. 22, Yes I Am Free made his first start for trainer Gerald Bennett in the listed $100,000 Parx Dash. Yes I Am Free went to the lead and battled with Just Jeremy down the stretch, where he was bumped several times by the latter. Nobody Listens rallied on the outside in deep stretch, passing Yes I Am Free and Just Jeremy to win by half-length. Just Jeremy finished second, but was disqualified for interference and placed third. Yes I Am Free was moved up from third to second via that disqualification.

Yes I Am Free would not make another start until Dec. 1 at Gulfstream Park in a $62,500 optional claiming. Once again saddled by Laura Cazares, Yes I Am Free finished second to No Hay Hudson (Ire).

Consigned by Hawk’s Nest to the 2018 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s June 2-Year-Olds and Horses of Racing Age Sale, Yes I Am Free was purchased by bloodstock agent Justin Casse, agent, for $135,000. He raced for Gary Barber until he was claimed for $62,500 on April 15, 2021, after winning an optional claiming turf race at Gulfstream Park. Trainer Laura Cazares signed the claiming ticket for current owner Golden Kernel Racing Stable.

Yes I Am Free has posted 12 wins, including two graded stakes wins and two black-type wins, six seconds with three black type, and three thirds with two black type, in 32 lifetime starts. He has career earnings of $696,674.


Photo by SV Photography

A late bloomer who didn’t even make her first start until she was four, Bluefield blossomed as a 7-year-old mare.
Having toiled away in optional claiming allowance company, Bluefield stepped up in the $60,000 Muscial Romance overnight handicap on May 28 at Gulfstream Park. She won by four lengths over Poiema with R Adios Jersey third. Her winning time for the six-and-a-half furlongs was 1:16.03.

Shipped to Prairie Meadows, Bluefield was next saddled by Saffie Joseph Jr. in the $100,000 Saylorville. She gave a good accounting of herself, finishing second to millionaire and multiple graded stakes-winner Yuugirl.

In her 20th lifetime start, Bluefield posted her first black-type victory. On Dec. 9 in the $100,000 FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes City of Ocala at Tampa Bay Downs, Bluefield stalked early leader Dream Concert on the backstretch. Moved into the two path around the turn, she rallied in upper stretch and took aim at Dream Concert. At the wire, Bluefield prevailed by a neck over Dream Concert with Atomically third. Winning time for the seven furlongs was 1:22.47.

Bred by Ed Pendray and Edward A. Seltzer, Bluefield has been raced her entire career to date by Seltzer. She has two wins, including her initial stakes victory, two seconds with one being black type, and one third in seven starts in 2023. She has banked $158,495 this season. She has career earnings of $326,675.

Chess Master

Photo by Coady

Primarily an optional claiming allowance and overnight handicap runner in his long career, Chess Master has dabbled in stakes company with moderate success. But he has shown a particular affinity for the listed Turf Dash, winning it in 2022 and 2023.

In the 2023 edition of the $98,750 Turf Dash on Feb. 18 at Tampa Bay Downs, Chess Master made a bold move out of the gates and took the lead. He posted opening fractions of :21.14 and :43.07 with Full Disclosure and Fluid Situation trying to keep pace. Chess Master kicked clear while racing in the two path around the turn and pulled away decisively in the stretch. He won by four-and-three-quarter lengths in :54.78 for the five-furlong turf sprint.

Not only was it Chess Master’s second consecutive Turf Dash victory, it was also the same for owner/trainer Kerri Raven. On Jan. 23, 2021, Raven claimed Chess Master for $32,000 after he finished fourth in an optional claiming allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs.

Following his latest Turf Dash Stakes win, Chess Master finished third in an optional claiming allowance race on March 12 at Tampa Bay. In his next start, Chess Master was claimed for $62,500 by Michael J. Maker for Paradise Farms Corp. and David Staudacher after finishing sixth in an optional claiming allowance race on April 2 at Gulfstream Park.

For his new owners, Chess Master finished third in the Penbroke Pines overnight handicap won by Eamonn and won a second level, $40,000 optional claiming. Shipped to Saratoga, Chess Master was claimed again, this time for $32,000 off the win. Trainer Jorge R. Abreu signed the claim ticket for new owners Flying P Stable.

On the season, Chess Master made 12 starts with three wins, including the Turf Dash, and two thirds. He has banked $138,412 on the season.
Bred by Brenda K. Jones, black type stakes winner Chess Master has made a remarkable 49 starts, posting 15 wins, five seconds and six thirds. He has career earnings of $431,837.

Max K. O.

Photo by Ryan Thompson

Another hard-knocking claimer who’s earned more than half a million to date, Max K. O. has also added black type to his resume for current owner Ten Twenty Racing. And, of course, Ten Twenty Racing came to own Max K. O. through the claiming box.

Max K. O. was claimed twice at Gulfstream Park in May 2021. On May 1, Max K. O. was claimed for $16,000 by Jose Garoffalo for Ivette Perez Chambliss out of a winning effort. For his new owner, Max K. O. won a first condition, $25,000 optional claiming on May 16 and was promptly claimed again. This time, Saffie Joseph Jr. signed the claim ticket for Ten Twenty Racing.

In his first start for Ten Twenty Racing, Max K. O. was second in the 2021 Mr. Steele Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream Park and earned his first black type. In 2022, Max K. O. posted a second to Drama Chorus in the $110,000 Grey Goose Turf Classic on the turf during the Florida Cup at Tampa Bay Downs.

The third time in stakes company proved to be the charm for Max K. O. In the 2023 Mr. Steele on May 14 at Gulfstream Park, Max K. O. broke at the back of the path while Fredo took the lead. He began his rally four wide going into the far turn and advanced steadily. At the wire, Max K. O. took the measure of Saratoga Flash and Me and Mr. C, winning by a nose. Saratoga Flash was a nose better than Me and Mr. C. Winning time for the mile and one-sixteenth on the turf was 1:42.51.

Trained by Michael J. Maker, Max K. O. has to date seasonal earnings of $114,472 on two wins in nine starts. In his career to date, Max K. O. has made an impressive 48 starts, posting 12 wins, including one black type stakes, six seconds with two being black type, and three thirds. Max K. O. has career earnings of $553,415.

Bred by Span Investments, Max K. O. was consigned by Santa Fe Thoroughbreds to the 2018 OBS June 2-Year-Olds and Horses of Racing Age Sale. He was purchased for $13,000 by Rohan Crichton.

Roaring Forties

Photo by Michael Burns

Roaring Forties, a frequent flyer in the optional claiming allowance ranks, definitely roared into 2023 with the first black type of his career.

In the $75,000 Sunshine Turf on Jan. 21 at Gulfstream Park, Roaring Forties played catch me if you can with the field. He set the pace, :23.10, :47.69 and 1:11.34 while comfortably in the lead by as many as two lengths in the stretch.

Holding back the late challenge of Hot Blooded, Roaring Forties won by half a length. Me and Mr. C was third. Winning time for the mile-and-one-sixteenth turf test was 1:40.57.

Owned by Borders Racing Stable Ltd. and trained by Katerina Vassilieva, Roaring Forties was then shipped to Woodbine. There he posted a win and a third in two optional claiming allowance races.

Bred by Stroud Lane Farm, Roaring Forties has seasonal earnings of $92,231 on two wins, including one stakes win, and one third.

Roaring Forties has made 31 lifetime starts with seven wins, including one stakes, three seconds and two thirds for earnings of $300,833.