09/08/2004 11:00PM

Fort Prado's ascent softens blow to barn

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Mystery Giver, an Illinois horse of the year, is hobbling around the barn of trainer Chris Block, taking baby steps toward a distant comeback, his career derailed by a serious tendon injury he suffered in the Arlington Million.

Down Block's shed row is another Illinois-bred turf horse, and this one is tearing up the racetrack.

won the statebred Springfield Stakes in June, and in his most recent race he thumped second-level Illinois-bred turf allowance horses by more than four lengths. Blazing dirt workouts since then have done nothing to discourage the notion Fort Prado has serious talent, at least by Illinois-bred standards.

"The Illinois-bred '2X' allowance condition doesn't validate a horse," Block said. "They need to prove themselves in open company. That's what Mystery Giver did. He ran through his Illinois conditions, and he went on from there."

Fort Prado gets his chance Saturday at Arlington, when he runs in the Paradise Creek, for open 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on grass. Fort Prado has post 9 in a 10-horse field, but has the tactical speed to gain position before the first turn, and the mental capacity to come back to jockey Chris Emigh when that's asked of him.

Fort Prado, bred by Block's father, David, and owned by Team Block, was decent at age 2 and better this past winter, but truly began coming around late this spring. The fast recent workouts give Block evidence that Fort Prado continues moving forward.

"He's really more aggressive in his breezes than at 2 and early in his 3-year-old year," said Block. "It's maturity, mental and physical."

The Paradise Creek attracted a good field for an overnight race with a $42,000 purse. The top three finishers in an overnight handicap Aug. 13 at Ellis Park - , who beat open second-level allowance horses earlier this meet and was a close fourth July 24 in the Grade 2 American Derby. But two weeks later, Gwaihir showed up in the Sea o' Erin Handicap and finished last.

"He was touting himself in the morning, but he obviously bounced on us there," said trainer Grant Forster. "I gave him 10 days off, and he's come back and trained super."

Persuaggle, another Illinois-bred, has the pedigree to improve on turf.