08/03/2006 12:00AM

Fort Prado in the hot seat this time

Benoit & Associates
Fort Prado should end up favored in the Sea O'Erin off four straight stakes wins, including a narrow score in the Black Tie Affair (above).

CHICAGO - In the 2005 Sea O'Erin Handicap, Fort Prado offered 5-2 odds and an appealing alternative to heavily favored Remind, and he won the race by a comfortable margin, with Remind well behind in third. On Saturday, the $150,000 Sea O'Erin comes round again, but this time it is Fort Prado who is the hunted, not the hunter, and six rivals will be playing a game of beat-the-favorite.

figures to be favored since he comes into the Sea O'Erin, a one-mile grass race, with wins in his last four starts, all stakes, and his price would be lower had he not won the Black Tie Affair, an Illinois-bred stakes, by only a neck at odds of 2-5 in his most recent start. Saturday, Fort Prado will have to produce a more typically sharp effort to repeat in the Sea O'Erin, because the race includes several worthy rivals, headed by Therecomesatiger and Le Cinquieme Essai.

won the first three starts of his career last summer at Arlington, and captured the Commonwealth Turf last November at Churchill. Off from Dec. 31 until late this spring, Therecomesatiger finished fifth in his comeback race, an overnight stakes, but bounced back with a good third to top-class miler Miesque's Approval in the Grade 2 Firecracker at Churchill.

"He wasn't as tight as he's supposed to be," trainer Tom Proctor said of Therecomesatiger's first start of the summer, "but that's what the race was there for. He ran good last time, just might've moved a little early."

Therecomesatiger has the rail, and figures to save ground while stalking the pace. Cougar Cat, who has talent but might prefer one turn to two, figures to make the early lead, with Le Cinquieme Essai, who arrived Thursday afternoon from Woodbine, in close pursuit. Le Cinquieme Essai is 7, but has raced just 25 times, scoring 10 wins. He was third in the Grade 1 Atto Mile, and after getting several months off, has turned in a pair of good runs this summer for trainer Paul Nielsen, twice finishing second in Canadian graded stakes.

"He's in pretty good shape and very healthy at this point," said Nielsen, who trains a small string and has won but one race this season. "He's a lightly raced horse. I trained his mother, and I've had him since he was a yearling. They're a very late family, and they all seem to get better as they get older."

There is another 7-year-old in the Sea O'Erin, , who scored a 35-1 upset in the Stars and Stripes Handicap last out. Kid Grindstone has won consecutive stakes with a break of three months between them, and at this point in his career may be better suited to dirt. Rapid Proof, a graded stakes winner in 2005, rebounded from several subpar races to win for a $62,500 claiming tag in his last start.

Fort Prado has the far outside post, but also possesses as sharp turn of foot as good as any turf miler in the Midwest. If he unleashes it Saturday, he should win the Sea O'Erin again.