10/25/2006 11:00PM

Mystery Giver shows Block he still has it


CHICAGO - It wasn't a week ago that trainer Chris Block was mildly bemoaning the way things hadn't quite fallen into place for him at this Hawthorne meet, a stark contrast to last fall, when Block caught breaks, had nothing but live horses, and won a bunch of races. Then came Wednesday. Block won early on the card with a first-time starter in a maiden claimer, but that was only a warm-up. Mystery Giver, the old warrior, called forth his best form from three and four seasons ago, winning a stakes-class turf allowance race by 3 1/2 lengths. And to close the afternoon, Block unveiled another potential grass star, a Belong to Me colt named Corrupt, who, at first asking, won a one-mile turf maiden race by more than seven lengths.

A three-win day warms the heart under any circumstance, but to include Mystery Giver in the party made it even better for Block.

"Yeah, anytime that old horse wins, it picks my head up," he said. "He's one of my favorites of all time. For him to run like that's incredible."

Mystery Giver - who was good enough to win three straight editions of the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup in addition to winning the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Handicap in 2004 - suffered a hind-leg injury during the 2004 Arlington Million, an injury that almost ended his career. After extensive rehab, he made it back to the races early this year, but did not much look like the horse he once had been.

"Early on, when we got him to Chicago, I didn't think he'd make it back like that," Block said.

Two poor performances into the comeback, Block ran Mystery Giver in a $40,000 claimer and got a nose win out of him. Block also drew criticism from some quarters for running an old stable star - bred and owned by Block's family - for a claiming price. But Block's idea was to get Mystery Giver at a level where he'd be competitive, to give him a foothold to start climbing back toward whatever his best form might be. And Block, in the end, did right.

"That horse has an absolute desire to race, and we never would have put him back into training or racing had he not had the attitude he has," Block said. "He has a love affair with racing - he loves to train, he loves the racetrack, and as long as he has that approach to it, we'll try to keep him going."

Mystery Giver, Block said, will head back to Fair Grounds for the winter. Richie Scherer, as he used to do during the Mystery Giver heyday, will take over his training.

Block has been high on Corrupt, another Team Block homebred, since mid-summer at Arlington, and Corrupt made good on Block's opinion. Racing from mid-pack, Corrupt made a flashy move around the far turn to take command of his maiden race. Block said Corrupt lost focus after making the lead; he still won in a gallop.

"He's got a real nice stride on him," Block said. "He covers a lot of ground with it. I thought on turf at least he'd be a nice colt. I think there's a lot of room for improvement, since the light hasn't really come on yet."

Corrupt could make his next start in an allowance race at Churchill Downs.

Tepexpan remains steady performer

Tepexpan has been around the block a time or two, but he has maintained the same type of solid form he showed as far back as two seasons ago. He also likes Hawthorne and may be the one to beat in the featured eighth race Saturday at Hawthorne.

Races here Thursday were off grass, and there was more wet weather in the local forecast, but for a change, that won't affect the feature, a $34,000 third-level allowance carded for 1 1/16 miles on the main track. The race has an optional claiming price of $40,000.

The race, which got seven entries, also includes Marion's Man, who is consistent both at Arlington and Hawthorne but often settles for places and shows in races he has a chance to win.