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Borel, Fort Prado steal the Prairie show
By John Leusch | Daily Herald Staff

Fort Prado wins the Black Tie Affair Handicap for the fourth time at Arlington Park on Saturday with Eduardo Perez up.


Courtesy Arlington Park

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Published: 6/20/2009 10:19 PM

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Although he left winless in five races, national celebrity jockey Calvin Borel served as a strong ambassador for thoroughbred racing Saturday at Arlington Park.

Having stepped no more than 25 feet out of the jockeys's room before his first race, Borel was approached by autograph seekers.

The 42-year-old Lousiana native became the only jockey to win the Kentucky Derby (Mine That Bird) and Preakness (Rachel Alexandra) on two different horses less than two months ago.

Saturday, he received a nice ovation as he entered the paddock area at the start of the day. He shook hands, took pictures and signed autographs for fans throughout the afternoon.

By the end of the day, an 8-year-old gray horse by the name of Fort Prado continued to serve as an ambassador for the 10th anniversary of Arlington's Prairie State Festival, with six Illinois-bred stakes races.

Fort Prado captured the $90,850 Black Tie Affair Handicap for the fourth time, avenging his lone defeat in the race from one year ago. Fort Prado has won 17 of his 54 career starts.

Ridden by Eduardo Perez and trained by Chris Block, the 2006 Illinois Horse of the Year covered the mile and a sixteenth over Polytrack in 1:46.70.

"He has really been a hard-luck horse the last two years," said Block, who is by far the Festival's top trainer with 15 victories from 46 starts. "He's gotten older and he's lost a step but he always tries his hardest. I'm just proud as punch that he came back and won a race like this. This was pretty special."

Block also found it special that Borel rode at Arlington Park.

"Any time you can get Calvin Borel into something like this, it's a nice addition," Block said. "He's great for the sport. No question, he is a world class rider in my mind."

Less than 15 hours earlier, Borel rode the winner of the 11th race (after 11 p.m.) on the first night racing program in the 135-year history of Churchill Downs, which drew a crowd of 28,011.

The day before he rode Mine That Bird to a third-place finish in the Belmont, Borel appeared on the David Letterman show.

He also visited Wall Street and the Stock Exchange while in New York.

"I've met the President and the Queen, but going to that stock market and ringing that bell was really impressive," he said. "That was the darndest thing."

Arlington President Roy Arnold was also grateful of Borel's appearance, which was prompted when trainer Ralph Hicks asked him to ride morningline favorite Gentleman Chester, who finished second at 4-5 in the Black Tie Affair.

"He (Borel) was great in the fact that he made himself so available to the fans (Saturday)," Arnold said. "He couldn't have been a better ambassador."

Block and trainer Christine Janks (8 wins in 29 Festival starts) have both been great ambassadors for Illinois racing, and each had their successes Saturday.

Janks got the day rolling when her 5-year-old mare Nicks won the $85,550 Isaac Murphy by a length over Blocks' Secret Kin.

In the $88,000 Purple Violet Stakes, trainer Tom Dorris' Bow-tie pasta prevailed by a neck over favored Pathway after a stretch-long battle.

Another tight finish occurred in the $106,946 White Oak Handicap with trainer Rusty Hellman's River Bear, a 25-1 longshot, 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 Tim Thornton, who rode River Bear. "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."

Block got his first of two wins when Apple Martini nosed out Janks' Sun for Fun in the $89,350 Lincoln Heritage Handicap.

Trainer Brian Williamson took the spotlight in the $90,0000 Springfield Stakes by saddling Ocean Ace and Agnostic to a 1-2 finish in the one-mile race for 3-year-olds clocked in 1:37.40.

"I didn't know who to root for, but it worked out real good running 1-2," 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, a 21-year-old rider who won the 2006 Belmont with Jazil, was aboard Ocean Ace.