06/18/2008 11:00PM

Fort Prado four-peat no easy task


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - When he was a 3-year-old, back in 2004, Fort Prado started in the Springfield Stakes on the Prairie State Festival at Arlington Park, and won at odds of 13-1. The word has been out ever since. The next year, Fort Prado was even money when he won the Black Tie Affair Handicap. In 2006, he won the race again, this time at odds of 2-5, and last year, he was home by a desperate nose at 4-5. Three straight Black Tie Affairs, and Fort Prado is almost certain to be favored to capture a fourth when he starts on the Prairie State card here Saturday.

Fort Prado is one of several live horses trainer Chris Block sends out in Saturday's six stakes races, four of which are on Polytrack, the other two carded for grass. But no one on Saturday's card has come close to accomplishing as much as Fort Prado, a 7-year-old Team Block homebred. A 16-time winner, Fort Prado crossed the $1 million earnings threshold earlier this year, and has won races all over the country, at distances as short as five furlongs and as long as nine.

"It's a tribute to the horse," Block said. "He's been a real warrior throughout his career. The way he handles himself as a racehorse in general has enabled him to get to this point, and we're happy to be back again this year."

This year, however, has not been kind to Fort Prado, and if he can four-peat in the Black Tie Affair, it will mark his first victory of 2008. Fort Prado had serious traffic trouble in his first two starts this meet, especially when he finished second in the Illinois Owners Stakes on May 3.

"He's had some unfortunate circumstances this year, whether it's weather-related and the turf being soft, or bad luck getting the trip that he needs," said Block.

Fort Prado gets a jockey change to Rene Douglas, and has drawn post 6 in the nine-horse Black Tie Affair, which goes as race 8. Chief among Fort Prado's rivals appears to be Majestic Zeal, who was beaten a nose by Dastardly Deeds - another Block-trained horse - in his 2008 debut here May 18.

"I think he will improve a little bit," said trainer Moises Yanez, who also sends out Rey Del Sol. "When he ran the other day, I didn't think he was quite ready. It surprised me that he ran that good."