07/07/2004 11:00PM

El Prado a force in Virginia Derby

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LAS VEGAS - Colonial Downs will be the site of the $500,000 Virginia Derby for 3-year-olds at 10 furlongs on the turf Saturday, and Artie Schiller and Kitten's Joy, who should vie for favoritism along with Prince Arch, are both sons of the very popular El Prado. Timo, another son of El Prado, won the Kent Stakes at Delaware Park (nine furlongs on the grass) on June 26. They are just a few of the growing number of runners by El Prado who are winning stakes races on dirt or turf.

What makes El Prado so special is that he is the only son of the world-class stallion Sadler's Wells who gets quality runners on dirt as well as turf. His dirt runners are topped by the recently retired Medaglia d'Oro.

El Prado was a 2-year-old champion in Ireland, winning 4 of 6 starts as a juvenile, including three group races: the National Stakes, Beresford Stakes and Railway Stakes.

While El Prado will never come close to the 238 stakes winners by his sire, Sadler's Wells (who was bred to Europe's creme de la creme of broodmares from day one), El Prado is the sire of a respectable 52 stakes winners. The leading sire of 2002, El Prado finished third on the leading sire list in 2003. With a stud fee of $75,000, El Prado is among the elite stallions, and because of his success with questionable mares, his book is now filled with high-quality broodmares. If he gets another dirt horse with the quality of Medaglia d'Oro, his fee could easily double.

In addition to Artie Schiller, Kitten's Joy, and Timo, El Prado's current crop of 3-year-olds includes Borrego, who finished second in the Sham Stakes (to Master David), Louisiana Derby (to Wimbledon), and Arkansas Derby (to Smarty Jones); El Prado Rob, who is out of Jurisprudence, a full sister to Australian Group 1 winner Secret Savings and who may eventually show his talent on grass for trainer Nick Zito; Pro Prado and Proper Prado, two colts owned by Mrs. James A. Winn and trained by Robert E. Holthus who were also on the Triple Crown trail; and Fort Prado, who won the Springfield Stakes at Arlington Park.

El Prado's older turf runners include the 4-year-old stakes winners Senor Swinger and Shaconage, winner of the recent Locust Grove Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Distance the key consideration

Anyone who witnessed Artie Schiller's 2-year-old maiden debut, when he closed about a dozen lengths to win a six-furlong race on the turf, knew this was going to be a special turf runner. Artie Schiller is out of Hidden Light, who won the Santa Anita Oaks, Hollywood Oaks, and Del Mar Oaks. Hidden Light is by Majestic Light, and like her sire, Hidden Light was versatile, winning stakes on dirt and turf. Hidden Light had produced eight undistinguished foals until Speed to Spare (by Red Ransom), who was third in the 2001 Astarita Stakes. Hidden Light then produced Orellana (With Approval), who won twice in nine starts in France. But her 11th foal, Artie Schiller, is her only stakes winner. Hidden Light has an unnamed yearling filly by Fusaichi Pegasus. Artie Schiller has never raced beyond nine furlongs, but he should have no trouble at 1 1/4 miles on turf.

Kitten's Joy won the Crown Royal American Turf Stakes on the Kentucky Oaks undercard, but was beaten by a head by the improving Prince Arch in the Jefferson Cup Stakes. Both Kitten's Joy and Prince Arch have the pedigree to win at 10 furlongs.

In addition to being by El Prado, Kitten's Joy is out of the Lear Fan (stamina/grass influence) mare Kitten's First, a half-sister to a multiple turf-stakes winner Down the Aisle (Runaway Groom). Prince Arch is by Arch, a son of Kris S. who has suddenly blossomed into the sire that Claiborne Farm had expected.

Runners by the Arch-Kris S.-Roberto sire line are well suited to 1 1/4 miles on the turf, and Prince Arch is out of a mare by Kris (not to be mistaken with Kris S.), a son of the successful European stallion Sharpen Up. Kris was a champion 3-year-old and older male in England, and is four years older than his full brother Diesis, who was a champion at 2 in England.

Commendation and King's Coronation, who garnered minor placings against the top 3-year-olds in the turf division, return for a rematch in the Virginia Derby. Commendation finished third behind Timo and Icy Atlantic in the Kent Stakes, with King's Coronation just a neck farther back in fourth.

While Commendation has an alluring pedigree - he is a half-brother to the stakes-winning Take Charge Lady (Dehere) - he is by Capote, who adds more speed than stamina to a pedigree, and is more suspect at 10 furlongs than Artie Schiller, Kitten's Joy, Prince Arch, and even King's Coronation.

An intriguing longshot is King's Coronation, a son of a superior turf sire, Red Ransom (Roberto). King's Coronation wins the pedigree prize here. His dam, Coronation Cup, is by Chief's Crown (Danzig), a strong sire of grass performers (including a European champion, Grand Lodge), and she is one of seven stakes winners out of the 1993 Broodmare of the Year, Glowing Tribute. Bred to run all day on the grass, King's Coronation could complete a superfecta with Artie Schiller, Kitten's Joy, and Prince Arch.