06/20/2014 4:32PM

Blocks' success a family affair

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Four Footed Fotos
Fort Prado was honored as the Illinois Horse of the Year in 2006.

On Sept. 14, 2013, the gray colt Afortable finished a half-length ahead of his nearest foe to win a maiden race at about a mile on turf at Arlington Park.

It was a benchmark moment for the racing and breeding program of David, Patricia, Chris, Ryan, and Dena Block, better known as Team Block, as the homebred colt was the first winner by their homebred sire Fort Prado and was out of a Block-owned mare.

Team Block has experienced a wide range of success from the local level to a national scale with a tight-knit operation, keeping its business in the family, both human and equine.

The Team Block horses are trained by David and Patricia’s son, Chris, and the Illinois-bred foals are managed by their other son, Ryan, who operates the family’s farm in Philo, Ill. Team Block also has a training farm in Ocala, Fla.

Team Block is perhaps best known for the triumphs of Never Retreat, whom the Blocks bought privately before her 4-year-old campaign. After moving to the Block barn, the Kentucky-bred Smart Strike mare won five graded stakes races as well as Sovereign Awards for 2011 Canadian Horse of the Year and champion turf mare.

However, the calling card for Team Block is its success racing homegrown Illinois-breds at Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course.

The Blocks have amassed an impressive collection of statebred honors, with homebreds earning Illinois Horse of the Year four times in seven years from 2002-08: Mystery Giver twice, Fort Prado, and Amazing Results. Later, Team Block earned another Horse of the Year trophy as the breeder and campaigner of 2012 Illinois-bred champion Ioya Bigtime. The list of divisional awards is just as impressive.

“We try to get as many good broodmares as we can get within our budget, and we select a stallion that fits that mare – either conformation-wise or nicking pattern-wise – that’s worked in the past with the same top- and bottom-line breeding,” David Block said of the farm’s breeding program. “We try to surround ourselves with fairly quick mares that have good conformation. Hopefully, they pass it on to their foals and we can have something to put on the racetrack.”

The ontrack triumphs of Team Block have led to an expansion into the stallion realm, both in Illinois and elsewhere. Three former Team Block runners currently stand at stud: Fort Prado, Cashel Castle, and Ioya Bigtime.

The Block family’s biggest hope lies with multiple Grade 3 winner Fort Prado, the Illinois Horse of the Year in 2006, who stands at Buck Pond Farm in Versailles, Ky., for an advertised fee of $5,000.

Fort Prado was a dependable runner for Team Block, winning 18 of 59 starts over seven seasons for earnings of $1,211,681. Thirteen of those wins came in graded or listed stakes competition, including a pair of Grade 3 wins on turf. Overall, Fort Prado finished in the money in 28 stakes races.

The 13-year-old son of El Prado is in his fifth season at stud, having stood his first two seasons at Hill ‘n Dale Farm in Barrington, Ill., before arriving at Buck Pond. His first foals are 3-year-olds of 2014, led by stakes winner Lakotadreamcatcher, Grade 3-placed Afortable, and multiple stakes-placed Prado U.

David Block said he sends about eight mares per year to Fort Prado and increased his broodmare band from eight or nine to 15 after deciding to stand Fort Prado at stud.

“If you’re going to stand a stallion, you’ve got to support him and at least give him a shot, as opposed to relying on some other breeder to do that,” Block said. “We’ve bred some very good mares to this guy, and I really think he’ll make it.

“We stood Fort Prado in Illinois his first two years and got a decent book,” Block added. “We were fortunate to hook up with Buck Pond Farm. [Farm owners] Doug and Karen Arnold have done a very good job with Fort Prado. We’ve had good books in the last three years, including this year. His foals are still seeing what they can handle in terms of distance and surface. The jury’s still out. Team Block’s had three really good Fort Prados that have done well so far, and hopefully we’ve got a lot more coming on.”

Block also sends two mares per year to Cashel Castle, whom Team Block co-campaigned with several owners. The 15-year-old Silver Ghost horse stands at the Illinois Hill ‘n Dale for a fee of $1,000.

Cashel Castle, a Grade 3 winner of $239,016, has seven crops of racing age, led domestically by stakes-placed Ice Climber and With a Twist.

“I send two a year [to Cashel Castle], and I feel good when I do that,” Block said. “He’s just been a very solid sire for us. He stood in Florida his first two or three years, and we did support him down there. We have a farm in Ocala, so obviously we sent some mares down there to breed to him, foaled a few in Florida, and brought him up to Illinois.

“He’s never had the big stakes winner, but we’ve had some foals from Cashel that have made $100,000,” Block added. “He’s a good sire. He’s got a nice pedigree on him, and he puts out a runner. We’ll keep supporting him as long as he’s still alive.”

While Team Block has been dominant in Illinois racing, David Block said the uncertain status of the state’s Thoroughbred industry, made perilous by the state’s lack of expanded gaming, has decimated the broodmare population, making it difficult to prove out a stallion in the state.

The shaky ground in Illinois prompted Block to send Fort Prado to Kentucky and to offer his multiple Grade 3 winner and 2012 statebred Horse of the Year, Ioya Bigtime, at public auction as a stallion prospect.

Ioya Bigtime, a 7-year-old son of Dynaformer, was offered at the 2013 Keeneland November breeding stock sale but finished under his reserve, with a final bid of $80,000. He was later purchased privately to stand in Uruguay.

“We thought we could stand him ourselves,” Block said. “Normally, we would have thought of that a couple, three years ago, but it’s a tough deal right now, especially looking at Illinois. You can’t stand in Illinois and get mares of any significance to help move a stallion in the right direction.”

While Team Block has accomplished much as a breed-to-race operation, Block said that without a significant change in the direction of the Illinois Thoroughbred industry, he would begin breeding with an eye toward the sales ring instead of the winner’s circle.

“I had a game plan, I’m sticking with it, and it looks like instead of racing, we’re going to be selling,” he said. “That’s fine because there’s a market out there right now. The industry is doing extremely well in the sales ring right now, and that says a lot for our industry in that vein.”