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Fort Prado strongest when it counts

OLDSMAR - On a scale of 1 to 10, Fort Prado's trip would rate a 3. At best.

His finish was a perfect 10.

Fort Prado used a powerful stretch run to overtake Icy Atlantic in the final furlong and win the $125,000 Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Saturday afternoon at Tampa Bay Downs.

Ridden by Brice Blanc, the Team Block-owned 5-year-old gray roan rallied from 9 lengths back to secure his sixth stakes victory.

"He gives you quite a thrill," trainer Chris Block said. "What made it more exciting (today) was that he was able to come from as far back as he was."

Fort Prado broke slowly, got bogged down in traffic and nearly went wide on the final turn. But he moved into contention entering the stretch and, once a racing lane opened, the Illinois-bred son of El Prado easily passed Icy Atlantic, a Todd Pletcher trainee. Fort Prado won by 2 lengths in 1 minute, 40.76 seconds for the 1 1/16-mile turf event.

It was the 10th victory for Fort Prado, nine on turf. The first-place check of $45,000 raised his lifetime earnings to $523,100 from 23 starts.

Fort Prado, in his track debut, broke last in the 12-horse field and was ahead of only two rivals after 6 furlongs.

"He broke awkwardly and I fell back farther than I wanted to be," Blanc said. "He moved his way around and when I needed the acceleration to go on, he just exploded."

Fort Prado, the 2-1 favorite, paid $6.40, $3.80 and $2.80.

Cherokee Prince and Major Parker set the pace with fractions of 23.35 and 47.04 seconds. Icy Atlantic moved in front by 2 lengths entering the stretch, but couldn't withstand Fort Prado's charge. Icy Atlantic paid $3.80 and $3.60. He finished a length in front of Interpatation, which paid $9.20 for third.

"Things didn't go according to plan," Block said. "I was really concerned after the break because I wanted him in the first flight of horses. But he's got a turn afoot and a lot of strength. It looked like he was going to go wide on the far turn, but when I saw him come through at the end of the lane, he just had the one horse of Todd's to catch."

Block said Fort Prado's next start will come in March at Sam Houston or Keeneland.

"He makes my job easy, real easy," Block said.

NOTES: T.D. Houghton had three winners on the card: Cliff Road (third race, $7.40), Natural Advantage (sixth, $40.20) and Secret Fever (eighth, $12.60). Tammi Piermarini went 0-for-3 and remains one victory shy of 1,500 career. Two-time defending riding champion Jesus Castanon is expected to leave Tampa soon and ride at Turfway Park. Attendance was 4,818.

Lawyer Ron wins Southwest Stakes

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Lawyer Ron moved a step closer to the Kentucky Derby with his fourth straight win, leading gate-to-wire for a three-quarter length victory over Steppenwolfer in the $250,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

The 3-year-old colt, ridden by John McKee, has won all five career starts on dirt and is 0-for-7 on the grass.

Lawyer Ron, whose owner James Hines Jr. died Tuesday in an apparent swimming pool accident, is trained by Bob Holthus. Lawyer Ron covered the mile in 1:40 and held off a late charge from Steppenwolfer. Red Raymond, also trained by Holthus, was third.

Lawyer Ron opened the year with a victory in the Risen Star at Louisiana Downs, and will be pointed next to the Rebel Stakes on March 18 at Oaklawn, followed by the Arkansas Derby on April 15 - the same route Smarty Jones took before winning the Derby and Preakness in 2004.

Sent off as the 1-2 favorite in the 10-horse field, Lawyer Ron paid $3, $2.40 and $2.20. Steppenwolfer returned $4.20 and $3.60, and Red Raymond $7.

McKee said Lawyer Ron settled in as the field reached the backstretch, and then "I let him start running. I heard Steppenwolfer come to us, but I kept him to his business and he gave me a strong finish."

Steppenwolfer, 2-for-2 this year coming into the race, also is a Derby prospect.

BREEDERS' CUP TURF: Einstein beat Go Deputy by a neck in the $190,000 race at Gulfstream Park and paid $16.40, $7 and $4 in his first stakes start. Einstein outran favored Gun Salute from the start to the final turn.

Information from Times wires was used in the report.

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