06/18/2003 11:00PM

Team Block set to party at Prairie Festival


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Mystery Giver's history embodies what the Prairie State Festival is supposed to represent. His talent, however, may transcend it.

Mystery Giver's sire, Dynaformer, stands in Kentucky. Otherwise, he is all-Illinois. David and Patricia Block bred Mystery Giver. Their son, Chris, trains him, and the family racing partnership, Team Block, campaigns him. The Blocks hail from the rural part of Illinois Chicagoans term "downstate," farm country, and Dave Block grew up in a farming family.

The Blocks have a band of broodmares and a Florida farm to ready youngsters for the races. They concentrate on Illinois racing, and Saturday's Prairie State Festival, a six-stakes day of statebred racing at Arlington, is their season's high point.

And they are not the only ones. Fifty-nine horses were entered in Saturday's stakes, each worth $75,000. Besides Mystery Giver, Chris Block has live horses in two other stakes. Owner Russell Reineman, of War Emblem fame, has three stakes entrants, including War Emblem's little sister, My Sweet Heart. And trainer Gene Cilio has managed to come up with a horse for all six stakes.

Mystery Giver turned out so well that the Illinois-bred aspect of his pedigree has become irrelevant. Mystery Giver has won the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup two seasons in a row and has raced competitively in top-class races like the Explosive Bid Handicap. He won the Cardinal Handicap last season on Prairie State Day and seeks a repeat this year in the best race on the program.

There is only one potential hang-up: Chris Block likes him.

"It seems like every time I like one in a big race, they don't fire," Block half-joked Wednesday morning. "I try to keep myself on the ground. Every time you get too high on one of them, they can let you down."

Even so, Block acknowledges if Mystery Giver "puts in his run, he's going to be tough. The one thing that concerned me was he ran a temp in late April, and we never found out what it was, but he's back to himself now."

Mystery Giver's main competition in the Cardinal, a 1 1/16-mile grass race, could come from Colorful Tour, but only if that horse can shift his dirt ability to grass. Trainer Noel Hickey isn't certain if that will happen - Colorful Tour is 0-for-3 on turf - but Hickey blames himself for Colorful Tour's last two losses.

"Mea culpa, mea culpa," Hickey said. "I made a mistake bringing him back too quick at Hawthorne, and last out he went too fast because I didn't want another horse getting away from him."