06/20/2009 11:00PM

Fort Prado shows he's still got it

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Trainer Chris Block talked recently about retiring Fort Prado at the end of 2009. On Saturday, 8-year-old Fort Prado showed why he hasn't been retired yet, winning the Black Tie Affair Handicap by a neck over favored Gentleman Chester in a rousing conclusion to the six-stakes Prairie State Festival for Illinois-breds.

The victory was meaningful in several respects. Fort Prado won for the first time on a synthetic surface, and now has won stakes races at Arlington on dirt, turf, and Polytrack. He won the Black Tie Affair for an amazing fourth time, turning the tables on Gentleman Chester, who had stopped his Black Tie Affair win streak at three in 2008. And finally, the win stopped a 16-race losing skid dating to October 2007, validating Block's continued confidence that Fort Prado still had enough in his tank to compete at a relatively high class level.

"He's gotten older and he's lost a step, but he always tries his hardest," said Block, who trains homebred Fort Prado for Team Block, a family partnership.

Fort Prado was one of only two horses Saturday to win a race while rallying on the outside. Under Eddie Perez, Fort Prado started out in seventh place, moved up to fifth on the far turn, and came outside of Free Fighter and My Sonny Boy to get up just before the finish in a race moved from turf to Polytrack because of extremely wet conditions. Gentleman Chester and Calvin Borel followed Fort Prado, but fell just short, with Free Fighter holding third. Fort Prado paid $9.40 to win, and was timed in 1:46.78.

River Bear by a neck in White Oak

Under a well-timed inside move from jockey Tim Thornton, 25-1 shot River Bear got up by a neck to win the $106,946 White Oak Handicap over last year's victor, Mighty Rule.

River Bear exited a $35,000 claimer, and was part of what looked like the deepest race among Saturday's stakes.

"We knew he was going to have to run the race of his life to win it," said Thornton, the "we" also including Fairmount-based trainer Rusty Hellman, and owner-breeder Dana Waier.

Hellman is the son of longtime trainer Leroy Hellman, and neither generation had won an Arlington stakes race before Saturday. Hellman wondered if someone might claim River Bear out of a $35,000 claiming win here June 5, but nobody went, and River Bear moved nicely forward Saturday.

With front-running Shrewd Operator scratched, the White Oak unfolded slowly, the pace disadvantaging the deepest closers, like favored Wildeydsouthernboy and second choice Amazing Results, who both tried to rally from well off the rail. Thornton and River Bear ($52.20) crept up the fence, came around tiring Dakota Rebel in upper stretch, and wore down Mighty Rule, getting six furlongs in 1:10.21. Big Rushlet wound up third, followed by Wildeydsoutherboy and Amazing Results.

Apple Martini another Block success

Block scored his first of two Saturday stakes wins when Apple Martini won the $89,350 Lincoln Heritage. Apple Martini's number was put up first over Sun for Fun after a long review of a win photograph.

The Lincoln Heritage was moved from turf to Polytrack because of wet conditions, and Apple Martini handles both surfaces. Under Eddie Razo, Apple Martini ($9.40) hugged the rail most of the 1 1/16 miles, with Razo splitting horses about a half-furlong from the finish when Sun for Fun drifted out. Apple Martini was timed in 1:46.33.

Apple Martini was bred and is owned by the Virginia Tarra Trust, and is a full sister to 3-year-old Giant Oak.

Williamson sends out Springfield exacta

Two of the most well known sets of silks in Chicago crossed under the wire first and second in the $90,000 Springfield Stakes, with Ocean Ace ($14.20) up by 1 1/2 lengths over Agnostic. The big winner was Brian Williamson, who trains both Illinois-bred 3-year-olds.

With little pace in the one-mile Springfield, Agnostic, owned by the Russell Reineman Stable, wound up leading from the rail, going his opening half-mile in a modest 48 seconds. But Ocean Ace, the property of Nancy Vanier and the GOB Racing Stable, tracked along the inside, and when jockey Fernando Jara set him down in upper stretch, Ocean Ace collared and passed Agnostic without much trouble.

Murphy latest sprint score for Nicks

Five-year-old female sprinter Nicks wins the big ones. Fourth in the May 24 prep race for the $85,550 Isaac Murphy Stakes, Nicks won the Isaac Murphy itself by one length over Secret Kin, giving her victories in the last three major Illinois-bred sprint stakes for older females.

Buried behind horses at the eighth pole, jockey James Graham wheeled Nicks wide for a strong final rally. Nicks ran six furlongs in 1:10.62, and paid $7.40 to win for trainer Christine Janks.

* Make that three in a row for the 3-year-old filly Bow Tie Pasta, who hadn't raced since winning the Pretty Jenny Stakes at Hawthorne on April 25, but was dead game and plenty fit, coming back after being headed to beat favored Pathway by a neck in the $88,000 Purple Violet Stakes. Bow Tie Pasta is trained by Tom Dorris, and was ridden to victory by Eddie Razo.