06/01/2005 12:00AM

'Game' far from over

Benoit & Associates
Ridden by Eddie Razo Jr., Fort Prado wins Monday's Mister Gus Stakes, a turf race for statebreds at Arlington.

He's the claim that keeps on giving.

Winning one allowance race with a horse claimed for $10,000 is a coup. Winning four of them and a graded stakes, all in the space of six months, is like conquering a continent.

Such has been the brief history of Lord of the Game, discarded by the major operation that bred him and picked up at Hawthorne Race Course out of a $10,000 maiden claimer on the last day of 2004. Lord of the Game ran well in defeat when he finished third to Pollard's Vision and Badge of Silver in the National Jockey Club Handicap at Hawthorne; he ran just as well in victory Saturday, rallying late to win the Grade 3, $100,000 Hanshin Handicap by a half-length over Gouldings Green.

And as of Wednesday, Lord of the Game remained hale and hearty, stabled in trainer Tom Tomillo's little corner of the Arlington backstretch.

"He came out of the race really good," Tomillo said. "I haven't had any problems at all with his legs."

Injury kept Lord of the Game from racing until hours before his fourth birthday. Bred and originally owned by WinStar Farm, Lord of the Game is a tall, lengthy dark bay by Saint Ballado and out of a mare by A.P. Indy. He is a grand-looking horse. WinStar breeds to sell and to race, but it was culling two of its herd in bottom-level maiden claimers that day at Hawthorne. Tomillo claimed both, and struck gold with Lord of the Game.

Lord of the Game won his debut by almost 23 lengths, and wasn't really challenged until he looked Badge of Silver in the eye on the backstretch of the NJC 'Cap, in which he faded to third after a slow break and a hot pace. Saturday, he raced around one turn for the first time in his career, and came from off the pace for the first time, too.

"He still doesn't really know how to run," said Tomillo. "He didn't really know what he was doing trying to catch that horse, but he still got there."

The $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel on July 16 at Canterbury is the next major goal for Lord of the Game. There could be a prep race beforehand, but Tomillo is not afraid to run Lord of the Game after a short layoff.

"He runs well fresh," he said, "and as good as he is right now, all he really needs to do is stay where he is."

Fort Prado tries to fill big shoes

Mystery Giver, the best Illinois-bred grass horse of recent seasons, soon will begin a swimming regimen, his first step toward a possible comeback from a serious injury sustained in last summer's Arlington Million. Mystery Giver's shadow still hovers around trainer Chris Block's barn, but Fort Prado has stepped up, a worthy replacement in the same Illinois-bred turf division.

Monday, Fort Prado beat a good field of open-stakes-quality turf milers in the Mister Gus Stakes, making him 2 for 2 this season and setting him up for the $75,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap, part of the June 25 Prairie State Festival for Illinois-breds.

Three years in a row Mystery Giver won the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap, and during the 2004 Fair Grounds meet he added the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz. Fort Prado has yet to win an open stakes race, though he appears talented enough to do so.

"I don't know that I'd put him in the same category as Mystery Giver yet," Block said. "To me, he's just starting out his career right now. He's a completely different horse than he was a year ago, both mentally and physically."

Fort Prado pushed through traffic in the Mister Gus and beat Major Rhythm by three-quarters of a length, getting his last quarter-mile in less than 23 seconds. Cloudy's Knight, making his first start of the year, finished well to get third, but Herculated turned in another disappointing effort, beating only one of his seven rivals.

Cilio assistants out on their own

Greg Geier and Andy Hansen used to be the right and left hands for the trainer Gene Cilio. Geier would go to Fair Grounds in late fall, while Hansen stayed in Chicago, and the whole outfit would merge during the Arlington meet.

Cilio died two years ago. Last summer, all his former horses ran under Geier's name at Arlington. But this season, though the Geier and Hansen stock all reside under the same roof, the operations function as independent entities, each former assistant claiming his slice of the pizza.

Memorial Day weekend, Geier had more luck than Hansen. Monday, Garesche finished sixth in the Mister Gus for Hansen; the day before, Geier had saddled Vitamin Bag to a 40-1 upset in one of two divisions of the Reluctant Guest Stakes.

Feature offers sneak peek at Murphy

Racing fans who feel they simply can't wait for the Isaac Murphy Stakes on June 25 at Arlington don't have to. The Isaac Murphy should look very much like the featured overnight handicap for statebred female sprinters that highlights Friday's nine-race card.

Seven were entered in the seven-furlong race, including Fighting Fever, who comfortably won the Governor's Lady Handicap at Hawthorne in her most recent race. But while Fighting Fever looked good in that victory, she took advantage of a serious inside-speed bias, and can be beaten Friday.

Also entered was Jaguar City, disqualified for interference out of the gate after an easy stakes win on the same day as Fighting Fever. Jaguar City ran long that day, but is more accomplished as a sprinter than a route horse.

Synco Peach ran dismally in the Governor's Lady, but has beaten these horses on her best day, while 3-year-old Meadow Bride raced against the teeth of that Hawthorne bias in her most recent start, and should get a better trip this time.