05/05/2007 12:00AM

Fort Prado still going strong


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The owner Avers Wexler won the inaugural Illinois Owners Stakes, a race that in 2006 happened to be named - the Avers Wexler. The winner in 2007 made sense, too. Fort Prado, one of the best Illinois-breds in recent years, won the $100,000 Russell Reineman Illinois Owners Stakes on Saturday at Arlington for a perennial leading Illinois owner-breeder, Team Block.

Fort Prado broke a six-race losing streak dating to last June 24, and he did so stylishly, winging off the far turn into the stretch, where he took a clear lead and held off a late charge from Toasted to post a half-length victory. It was another 4 1/2 lengths back to third-place Lord Carmen, who was followed by pace-setting Le Jester, Major Rhythm, and Kid Grindstone. Fort Prado ($4.40) was timed in 1:44.12 for 1 1/16 miles on turf rated good.

Fort Prado's losing streak included only one poor performance, a fifth-place finish Feb. 10 in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap. The rest of the losses were seconds, thirds, and fourths, and Fort Prado hadn't done anything really wrong, but one wondered if at age 6 Fort Prado was the same horse he had been, say, two seasons ago.

He looked like it Saturday. Block told jockey Eddie Razo to save ground on the first turn, but not to worry about racing wide around the second turn. Block anticipated a slow pace, and it was - 49.38 seconds to the half-mile - and figured Fort Prado might be better suited easing into his stretch run while in the clear than getting buried behind fresh pacesetters.

Which is exactly how it worked out.

"I didn't want to be in the lead at the top of the stretch, but he wanted to go when he felt those other horses," Razo said.

Toasted found his best stride in deep stretch, and cut consistently into Fort Prado's lead, but the winner never appeared to be in danger.

Timeless Native: Buddy Got Even gets up

Polytrack might be new to Arlington, but it's like home to Buddy Got Even. Winning for the fifth time in eight Polytrack starts, Buddy Got Even overcame an apparently insurmountable midstretch deficit and nailed favored Throng on the wire, capturing the $47,550 Timeless Native Stakes, a prep for the Hanshin Cup, by a nose. Another late-runner, Sadler's Trick, finished third, with Fifteen Rounds fourth.

Buddy Got Even, ridden by Eddie Razo for trainer Becky Maker, paid $8.60 to win and was timed in 1:36.73 for a mile on Polytrack. He raced wide around the far turn and trailed the Todd Pletcher-trained Throng by several lengths at the stretch call, but closed a late gap with a last-second rush to win one of many photo-finishes on Saturday at Arlington.