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Fort Prado Steals the Show at Prairie State Festival

| Churchill Downs Communications | 06/20/2009 #

Trainers Chris Block and Christine Janks have always dominated Arlington Park's Prairie State Festival and 2009 was no exception with Block notching two victories and Janks adding one to her win total.

The highlight of the afternoon occurred in the day's final stakes race when the venerable Fort Prado won the $90,850 Black Tie Affair Handicap for the fourth time, avenging his lone defeat in the race from one year ago. The 8-year-old Team Block colorbearer and 2006 Illinois Horse of the Year was ridden by Eduardo Perez and covered the mile and a sixteenth over Polytrack in 1:46.70.

"This horse (Fort Prado) has really been a hard luck horse the last two years," Block said. "He's gotten older and he's lost a step but he always tries his hardest. After becoming a millionaire last year the hard way - I'm just proud as punch that he came back and won a race like this. This was pretty special."

The Illinois-bred millionaire snapped a two-season losing streak with the Black Tie Affair score and the $52,329 winner's share boosted his bankroll to $1,166,831 while improving his career record to 17-10-8 from 54 starts.

Second choice in the wagering at odds of nearly 4-1, Fort Prado paid $9.80, $3.40 and $2.60.

The series of six stakes races began in somewhat predictable fashion when horses trained by Janks and Block captured the first two spots in the $85,550 Isaac Murphy Handicap.

Carson Springs Farm, Arbaway Farm & Ken Meeker's Nicks swung to the outside in the stretch to post a one-length victory over Secret Kin in the six-furlong race which was clocked in 1:10.62.

James Graham rode the daughter of Salt Lake who rebounded from a fourth-place finish in the $53,100 Your Ladyship Stakes here last month.

"She definitely finished better today than she did last time," Graham said.

Though dispatched at odds of 5-2, she was third choice in the wagering and paid $7.40, $4 and $2.60.

A little later in the afternoon, Block turned the tables on Janks when Apple Martini nosed out Sun for Fun in the $89,350 Lincoln Heritage Handicap. The mile and a sixteenth race, moved from the turf to the Polytrack following several days of rain, was timed in 1:46.43.

"Chris (trainer Block) told me to stay on the rail no matter what - and that worked out great for me," said winning jockey Eusebio Razo Jr. "I just waited and waited and then I rode her as hard as I could - all the way to the second finish line. It was close."

Apple Martini picked up her first win of the year in the Lincoln Heritage and paid $9.40, $4.20 and $3.60.

Incidentally, Apple Martini and Sun for Fun ran one-two in last year's Purple Violet Stakes.

Trainer Brian Williamson also made his mark on the Prairie State Festival by saddling Nancy Vanier & G.O. B. Racing Stable LLC's Ocean Ace and Russell L. Reineman Stable Inc.'s Agnostic to a one-two finish in the $90,000 Springfield Stakes. The one-mile race for 3-year-olds was clocked in 1:37.40.

"I didn't know who to root for but it worked out real good running one-two," Williamson said. "Ocean Ace's works were a little slow. It seemed like he picked it up after I ran him and the light bulb went on and he's been way better after that."

Fernando Jara was aboard the winning son of Ocean Terrace who paid $14.20, $6.40 and $4.20.

In other Prairie State Festival races, W. R. C. Thoroughbreds Inc.'s Bow Tie Pasta prevailed in a stretch-long battle with favored Pathway to take the $88,000 Purple Violet Stakes by a neck. Eusebio Razo Jr. was aboard the Tom Dorris-trained daughter of Champali who covered the mile over Polytrack in 1:38.11.

"Everything worked out great today," Razo said. "I just followed the six horse most of the race, and coming down the lane I had a good burst of speed. She ran a great race and I was happy with her performance."

The Purple Violet was the third straight win and second in stakes company for Bow Tie Pasta after she captured the $100,000 Pretty Jenny Stakes at Hawthorne in her last start. Sent off at odds of 9-2, she returned $11, $5.20 and $3.20.

Another close finish occurred in the $106,946 White Oak Handicap with Dana Waier Thoroughbreds LLC's River Bear rallying along the rail to score by a neck over Mighty Rule in the six-furlong event which went in 1:10.21.

"I love saving ground," said winning jockey Tim Thornton, who rode the Rusty Hellman-trained son of Unreal Zeal. "I knew there was a lot of pace in the race. The trainer said that he would have to run the race of his life today. I thought he'd get by (Mighty Rule) easy, but (Mighty Rule) picked it up when we came by but we beat him anyway."

A 25-1 outsider, River Bear paid $52.20, $21.60 and $9.