10/03/2007 12:00AM

Fort Prado's new dimension raises expectations

EmailSTICKNEY, Ill. - Chris Block had the tub of peppermints out late Wednesday morning in his Hawthorne barn. Reno Rumble, the old Illinois-bred turf horse and current stable pony, was being walked around the shed row, and stopped each trip past the barn office for a minty sweet. And with plastic rustle of an opening treat, another gray head - that of Fort Prado - poked out of his stall.

"He's the most spoiled of all," Block said.

And why not? Fort Prado, a 6-year-old bred and owned by Block's family, has somewhat unassumingly become a mega-star by Illinois-bred standards. He's won 15 of his 36 starts (14 of 30 on turf), and with career earnings of more than $887,000, he's within hailing distance of the $1 million mark. And the hope in the Block barn is that the successful experiment in turf sprinting conducted last month at Arlington will lead to still more success.

Block turned Fort Prado back to a sprint trip for only the second time in his career on Sept.o16, and he came through a tight spot and won a high-end allowance race by a neck. The margin was tight, but it was the way Fort Prado did it - holding steady in traffic while Rene Douglas waited patiently for as seam - that made him seem well suited to short grass races.

"He should be," Block said. "There's Fortunate Prospect on the bottom of his pedigree, and that's speed, and his dam [Fort Pond] won a stakes sprinting on grass. He's a productive horse, Grade 3 or overnight stakes, at two turns, but this might open things up going forward."

Block is leaning toward running Fort Prado in the Oct. 18 Woodford Stakes at Keeneland over the $500,000 Nearctic Stakes at Woodbine, though he said Fort Prado would be nominated to both spots. If Fort Prado runs at Keeneland, he could come back 17 days later in another turf sprint stakes at Churchill.

Piratesonthelake, drama horse

Piratesonthelake is back in trainer Jim DiVito's Hawthorne barn, and came out of his narrow win Saturday in the Kentucky Cup Sprint in good order, DiVito said. Piratesonthelake now has won consecutive stakes races, having dead-heated in the Arlington Sprint Handicap in his start prior to the Kentucky Cup.

Piratesonthelake won by nose Saturday over Base Commander, but close calls are nothing new for this horse. Besides the dead heat and the win by inches last weekend, he won an Arlington allowance race by a head this summer. "It's a little more drama than I really want," DiVito said.

DiVito said he's pointing Piratesonthelake to the $200,000 Select Stakes, a six-furlong race on Breeders' Cup undercard restricted to 3-year-olds. It'll be nice to take part in the Breeders' Cup festivities, but only with a horse who can win, DiVito said.

"I like being there, yeah, but I like being there with a horse that belongs," he said.

Grand Coeur nearing breakthrough

Grand Coeur keeps teasing. Maybe, after a couple close calls, he can actually break through his second-level allowance condition in the featured seventh race here on Friday.

Grand Coeur was one of eight horses entered in a second-level allowance race on dirt. Bet down to 4-1 on Sept. 16 at Arlington, Grand Coeur checked in seventh, but he had finished a close fourth in fast races his two prior starts, and three races back easily won an entry-level allowance race. Better still, Grand Coeur cleared the maiden ranks with a late-running win over Hawthorne dirt last fall.

With plenty of early speed signed on in the Friday feature, Life's Lessons, a stalking type, also could prove a factor.

Triple dead heat - almost

Hawthorne placing judges and stewards said the sixth race on Wednesday came within a sliver of producing a triple dead heat. As it happened, Rally Catcher won the race by about a micrometer, with Starlight Dove and Tooclosetothemusic dead-heating for second.

"It was as close to a triple dead heat as you're ever going to see," said chief steward Eddie Arroyo.