04/28/2005 11:00PM

Fort Prado finds ideal spot

Benoit & Associates
Fort Prado will use Sunday's allowance as a prep for the Cardinal Handicap.

STICKNEY, Ill. - Trainer Chris Block found his comeback spot for Fort Prado, and the most talented turf horse in the featured ninth race Sunday at Hawthorne should get an ideal race setup.

Fort Prado, bred in Illinois by Block's father, Dave, and owned by the Block family racing partnership, Team Block, makes his first start since Dec. 11, when he finished a close, closing fifth in the $100,000 Pete Axthelm Stakes at Calder. That was Fort Prado's fourth straight stakes start, and he had not a good trip in one of them. A measure of his innate talent: Fort Prado finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length, to the good turf horse Good Reward last fall in the Storm Cat Stakes at Keeneland.

The Sunday feature is a third-level allowance with a $35,000 claiming option, and Fort Prado is in it because Block passed on the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap, run Saturday as part of Hawthorne's six-stakes day for Illinois-breds. Block said he believes Fort Prado needs turf to show his best at two turns. He won the Springfield Stakes at Arlington last summer, but that was a one-turn mile, and Fort Prado finished sixth in the Round Table Stakes at two turns the next time he raced.

Stakes races are again on Fort Prado's horizon, and the Cardinal Handicap, an Illinois-bred grass race in June at Arlington, is an obvious early summer goal. But there is no reason Fort Prado cannot fire fresh on Sunday, and his work tab, including a bullet six-furlong dirt work here on April 18, suggest Fort Prado is ready. Fort Prado has tactical speed, but runs best when his rider takes him back off the pace and comes with a stretch run. That is exactly the sort of trip that should win the Sunday feature, which has at least three confirmed speed horses who should ensure a fast, contested pace.

One of the speeds, Color by D'or, has won 6 of 10 on the Hawthorne grass course, and drops down in class for his first start of the season.

Two accidents in one race

Three jockeys went down in separate accidents during the running of the fourth race here Friday, and though two horses wound up losing their lives, the riders seemed as of late Friday afternoon to have escaped severe injury.

E.T. Baird took the worst of a bad spill on the first turn of a $25,000 claiming race, and was quickly whisked from the grass course on a stretcher and transported via track ambulance to Loyola Medical Center. Baird was cut over an eye, but was said to be conscious.

Baird was on the lead in the first quarter-mile of a two-turn race when his mount, Indian Prospector, broke his leg and went down. A trailing horse, Saijan, fell over him, throwing Emanuel Cosme and causing chaos among the trailing horses.

Less than a quarter-mile later, in an unrelated incident, the veteran Illinois-bred grass horse Runaway Victor suddenly pulled up, the victim of an apparent heart attack, and veered to the outside fence, throwing Jesse Campbell. Campbell, too, was hospitalized but also seemed to have escaped serious injury. Cosme continued riding Friday afternoon.

Indian Prospector was euthanized, while Runaway Victor died on the racetrack. Runaway Victor, a 9-year-old, won seven times and finished second in 24 starts during a long career. Last June, he scored an upset in the Cardinal Handicap.

Marquez back in Chicago

Jockey Carlos Marquez Jr. has returned to the circuit after spending the winter at Fair Grounds and briefly trying his luck on the East Coast. Marquez had caught on with the massive operation of owner Mike Gill, and hoped to ride many Gill-owned horses at the upcoming meet at Monmouth Park, where Marquez rode for 10 years. Gill, however, has begun scaling back his stable, and Marquez was uncertain of where his mounts would come from.

"Gill stopped claiming horses, so what could I do?," Marquez said. "I'm glad to be back. I'll be fine here."