LAUREL -- Edgar Prado is a shy young man, one not given to outbursts of any sort. But yesterday he made an audacious move in Laurel Race Course's greatest race, and it yielded the biggest upset in the 40-year history of the Budweiser International.
Prado, one of just two Laurel-based riders to compete in yesterday's 1 1/4 -mile International, brought 44-1 shot Leariva from place to lead off a one-two-three sweep for French representatives. Sillery finished 1 3/4 lengths back, with Goofalik another half-length behind.
Horses came from Europe and California and New York to run in yesterday's $750,000 International, but the winning combination was Prado -- a 24-year-old Peruvian who grew up in poverty and came to Maryland, via Florida and New England, a little more than two years ago -- riding an obscure French filly who was bred and owned by a wealthly European baron.
"This is my greatest thrill in racing," said Baron T. von Zuylen de Nyevelt, who owned Perrault, the 1982 Arlington Million winner, in partnership, and who has owned the winners of prestigious European events. "With the media exposure that the International gets . . . when they play La Marseillaise, it's like you're representing your country, like in the Olympics."
Leariva, a Kentucky-bred 4-year-old by Irish River, started from the far outside post in a field of 13. She was kept well in hand by Prado until the field straightened for the final time, and at the quarter-pole, she had only two rivals beaten. But that didn't last for long.
"She has terrific acceleration, and I told the trainer that if she could just be restrained by traffic, she would have a good chance," said von Zuylen. "She's so generous that whenever she sees daylight, she wants to hit it."
Prado rode to orders, keeping Leariva behind horses before wheeling her to the far outside when the field turned into the stretch.
"I didn't know Edgar Prado was riding the filly until about an hour before I hit the track," said von Zuylen. "I didn't even know who he was. I was told he was a good rider, the best around here. He certainly rode the horse well."
Prado became the first locally-based rider to win the International since Wayne Chambers did it with Mongo in 1963.
"My agent [Steve Rushing] called [last week] and said we'd been asked to breeze this horse," Prado said. "When I came back, they asked me if I would ride her in the International.
"At the three-eighths pole, she started to pick up ground. Everybody started coming at that point, and she really started to run. When I asked her at the quarter-pole, she kicked in, and when we started to get clear, I thought we would win."
The winner's share of $450,000 is worth the standard 10 percent, or $45,000, to Prado. The jockey grew up in Lima, Peru, one in a family of 12 children; most remain in Peru, while several brothers have also moved to the United States to work at other tracks. He said the International was easily his greatest win.
Leariva's trainer, David Smaga of France, left Laurel by helicopter quickly to catch a flight. Smaga was an assistant for five years to Maurice Zilber, the leading all-time International trainer with four winners. "That was about 10 years ago," said Zilber. "I saddled my first winner for his father. I'm very proud of him. He's like my son."
Karmani, Thakib and Solar Splendor led a well-bunched field to the quarter-pole, where Sillery got through an opening after being kept close to the pace. Sillery, ridden by Corey Black, darted to a short lead over an onrushing pack, but with just over a sixteenth-mile remaining, Leariva powered to victory.
"I got a great trip and my horse ran a big race," said Black. "I thought I was a winner at the three-eighths pole, but I didn't see the winner coming. My horse might have dug in a little more if he had seen her."
Since European horses are noted for preferring wet courses, the turf's condition may have accounted for the French sweep. Said Black: "They've got to be more adapted to the soft ground . . . but it's definitely an advantage for the Europeans when the turf is soft."
Despite ideal drying-out conditions yesterday and Friday, the turf, according to Daily Racing Form, remained soft from heavy rains that fell Thursday. The winning time of 2 minutes, 6 2/5 seconds was far off the course record of 1:59 2/5.
Von Zuylen said he and Smaga will have to discuss the possibility of running Leariva in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs in 13 days. "I was going to retire her after this race, but this might change things," he said. "We'll have to consider it."
Leariva, the third-longest shot, had won just four of 15 prior starts. But in her last start, in the Prix de l'Opera in Paris, "she was left at the post by maybe 15 lengths," said von Zuylen. "She was game to finish as well as she did [seventh by two lengths]."
Solar Splendor, at 4-1, was the highest-priced favorite in the history of the race, a fair indicator of the balance of the race. Solar Splendor finished 10th.
Leariva's triumph was the 14th in race history for France, but its first since 1984, when Seattle Song won. The fifth female runner to win, her $90.60 win mutuel surpassed the previous high of $76.60, set by Lieutenant's Lark in 1986.
NOTES: Jolie's Halo was scratched about an hour before the race, leaving a field of 13. . . . Including Pimlico intertrack, business was very good yesterday. The combined attendance of 25,111 was the highest since 1977, and the $3,095,215 handle for the 12-race card was the second-highest in race history. . . . Daily Racing Form's "soft" designation is its most severe degree of wetness for a turf course. . . . Calixto Juarez, on 11th-place Rebuff, was the other Laurel jockey to ride in the International.