04/30/2008 11:00PM

Rain might foul up Fort Prado


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Try to find the last time Fort Prado lost a race restricted to Illinois-bred or -owned horses. It was 41 starts ago, on Oct. 30, 2003, that Fort Prado made his career debut at Hawthorne Race Course. He finished fifth, and has not lost a restricted race in six tries since then.

Saturday, Fort Prado will try to win the $100,000 James B. Tafel Illinois Owners Stakes at Arlington Park for the second straight season - but this may take some doing. The race is carded for 1 1/16 miles miles on turf, but there is rain in the forecast from Thursday night all the way through Saturday, and the Tafel could easily wind up on Arlington's main track. Fort Prado has raced only once on Polytrack, finishing an even fourth last year in the Hanshin Cup here.

Still, Fort Prado is less than $12,000 from becoming a millionaire, and for years has been one of the steadier grass performers in the Midwest, be it in restricted or open company. Trainer Chris Block has given the mount to Carlos Marquez Jr., who hasn't been aboard Fort Prado since 2004.

Among several in the 10-horse field with a shot, Major Rhythm might have the best chance of taking down Fort Prado .

Major Rhythm finished fifth in this race last year, but was coming back from a layoff of several months then. This year, he has turned in a series of solid drills after shipping to Fair Grounds and finishing a fine second to the solid grass horse French Beret in the Jan. 12 Colonel Bradley Handicap. Major Rhythm's lone start on a synthetic track produced a comeback win last fall at Woodbine, and Major Rhythm has shown a morning fondness for Arlington's Polytrack.

"On the dirt at Hawthorne, you got to make him work," said trainer Doug Matthews. "Up here, he drags you around."

Matthews only began training Major Rhythm last fall, and at age 9, the horse has shown him no sign of decline.

Two threats from Pletcher in Timeless Native

Trainer Todd Pletcher has a strong hand in the $50,000 Timeless Native, an overnight stakes carded for one mile on Polytrack. Pletcher entered 2007 Illinois Derby winner Cowtown Cat, as well as Throng, who won the Timeless Native last year.

Throng exits two subpar races, but won a one-turn mile at Laurel this past winter. Cowtown Cat went from his Illinois Derby win to a 20th-place Kentucky Derby finish, and never showed much spark in the rest of his 3-year-old campaign. He makes his first start since September, and tries a synthetic surface for the first time.

Mr. Soul won a one-mile Polytrack race here last year, and comes off a good allowance win at Hawthorne.