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An open track would clear way for Fort Prado

A commuter's trip home often has its challenges. Traffic is heavy, roads are jammed and an open lane needed for rapid acceleration isn't available.

At times, Fort Prado encounters similar obstacles.

A notorious closer, the Illinois-bred horse likes to pour it on in the stretch. That style doesn't work well when rivals are blocking his path.

Trainer Chris Block hopes racing luck is on Fort Prado's side today in the $125,000 Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup at Tampa Bay Downs. The 5-year-old grey roan makes his track debut in the 1 1/16th-mile turf test for older horses, five weeks after winning the Grade III $200,000 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap at Louisiana Downs, his first graded-stakes victory.

"He is a classy horse," Block said. "He takes things in stride and adapts very well to different surroundings. I expect him to handle himself in the same manner and, with some racing luck, hold his own. It's a quality field, the type of race you get into the business for."

Fort Prado, bred and owned by Team Block in Illinois, was scheduled to spend the winter in New Orleans. But when the Fair Grounds meet was shortened because of damage to the track caused by Hurricane Katrina, Block shipped the horse to Florida. Fort Prado has been stabled at the Team Block South Farm in Ocala, working out at the adjoining Starting Point Training Complex. Team Block consists of Block's father, David; mother, Patricia; and brother Ryan.

"After his last race, we couldn't see anything in quite a while for him," Block said. "So we brought him to Ocala and evaluated him. He was in good shape, and we decided to enter him in the Tampa race."

Brice Blanc ships in to ride Fort Prado.

A son of El Prado and Fort Pond, Fort Prado has been a gem for Team Block. He has five stakes victories among his nine career wins, won three Illinois thoroughbred awards and earned $478,100 in 22 lifetime races.

Three of Fort Prado's stakes victories came in 2005, when he won his first four starts and was selected Illinois' older handicap male and male turf horse of the year. He captured the $150,000 Sea O'Irin Cup Mile, $75,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap and $40,000 Mister Gus, all at Arlington Park. In each race, Fort Prado came from off the pace.

He also finished second in the Grade III Robert F. Carey Memorial at Hawthorne and Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap at Louisiana Downs.

Fort Prado ended the year with five victories, all at 1 mile or longer, from nine starts.

"Although we had success, his year was a bit frustrating because we missed a couple of other opportunities," Block said. "You're not always going to get clean trips when you're off the pace."

Traffic woes hurt Fort Prado in the Grade II Play The King Stakes at Woodbine and Grade III River City Handicap at Churchill Downs. He finished fifth and sixth, respectively, losing by a total of four lengths.

In 2004, Fort Prado won the $75,000 Springfield Stakes at Arlington Park, his only stakes win on dirt. It led to his selection as Illinois' 3-year-old colt/gelding champion.

"After he won (Springfield), we went back to the turf and stuck to it," Block said. "He's handled everything the way you'd want a race horse to."

Eighteen of Fort Prado's 22 starts have been on turf. He is one of 59 stakes winners sired by El Prado.

"His daddy is an extremely good sire and the mom was a good racehorse, better at sprints than distances," Block said. "Fort Prado has always been a straightforward horse."

Mystery Giver, a $1-million earner, also was entered by Block in the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup, but failed to make the field prior to race day. He hasn't raced since the 2004 Arlington Million, when he tore a suspensory.