Jockey Prado goes the extra length to win

ON HORSE RACING

March 30, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The 5-year-old mare Classy Looking was beaten -- or so it seemed. As she staggered around the final turn closer to last than first, even her trainer, Dale Capuano, had given up hope.

"I didn't think that horse was going to win turning for home," Capuano said a few minutes after Wednesday's first race at Laurel Park.

But then the mare's jockey, Edgar Prado, went to work.

He slapped Classy Looking repeatedly with a left-handed whip. He steered her to the outside. Riding her frantically with hands scraping up and down her neck, Prado urged Classy Looking down the stretch. And driving four wide, she won by half a length.

"I don't know too many riders who would have won with this horse," Capuano said.

Wise, aggressive riding like that is why Prado, Maryland's dominant jockey, has more wins this year than any other jockey in North America. As of Friday, he led Russell Baze, the northern California star, by five wins -- 112 for Prado, 107 for Baze.

"I can't complain about this year so far," said Prado in typical understated fashion.

He said those words about a half-hour before Wednesday's racing at Laurel. Then he marched out and won three of the first four races.

A leading jockey in his native Peru before moving to the United States in 1986, Prado settled in Maryland in 1989 after riding in Florida and New England. He became the state's leading rider after Kent Desormeaux left for California in 1990.

The son of an assistant trainer in Peru and the 11th of 12 children, Prado is 29 and in the prime of his career. Because he is not a self-promoter -- and because Maryland races in relative obscurity compared with Florida, New York and California -- his is not a household name.

For fame, he would have to uproot his family and move to one of the nation's premier racing centers. He tried New York a couple of months the winter of 1993-94. One of these years, he said, he'd like to try California.

"But I'm in no hurry," he said. "Business is good here. I ride eight, nine horses a day, and four or five are favorites. I'm happy here."

Last year, he won 301 races -- third in North America. In 1992, he won 351 -- also third.

But he has never ridden in a Kentucky Derby, never ridden in a Belmont Stakes. He has ridden in the Preakness three times and the Breeders' Cup three times, but his best finish was fifth place.

That's the main reason he'd like to ride someday in California.

"That's where many of the good horses come from," Prado said. "If you get on one early, they keep you on for all the big races."

Capuano, the leading trainer in Maryland, has employed Prado ever since he arrived in Maryland.

"He knows how to put horses in the race," Capuano said. "If he has the horse, he usually can win. He makes very few mistakes.

"He'll do well no matter where he goes."

Prado realizes that when he rides -- especially a horse trained by Capuano -- many bettors plop down their cash on faith that he somehow will coax his horse across the finish line first.

"I feel happy because of the people who have confidence in me," Prado said. "If I could carry the horse on my back and win for them, I would. I feel bad that I can't. I want to make everybody happy."

Fitting finish

When Prado glided across the finish line on Classy Looking, he crossed sacred ground.

The day before, relatives and friends of Thomas Wade Hauer, a longtime racetracker in Maryland, gathered in the Laurel winner's circle. Hauer, 49, a former groom and then a jockey's agent, had died March 22 of a heart attack.

A graduate of Parkville High School, Hauer began working at Laurel as a groom when he was about 20 and then as a jockey's agent, booking mounts for Joe Rocco and Omar Klinger.

Hauer's sister, Terri Kucharski, who lives in Parkville, said that after their parents died the siblings discussed what they would want to happen upon their deaths.

"Tommy said, 'I want my ashes spread over the racetrack,' " Kucharski said. "That was just one of his wishes."

So Tuesday, about 4: 30 p.m., a crowd of friends and relatives -- many from the backstretch -- gathered at the winner's circle. After a brief ceremony led by the Rev. Mark A. Hricko, Kucharski and her two brothers, Bud and Rick, walked onto the track and spread their brother's ashes along the finish line.

"We figured Tommy was a winner," his sister said. "So we put him on the finish line with all the other winners."

Latest on Cigar

S. H. Fernando, the Daily Racing Form columnist who has followed the travails of Cigar in the breeding shed closer than any other journalist, reported last week that Cigar may soon be transferred to the Kentucky farm of veterinarian Phil McCarthy.

McCarthy is adviser to the London-based insurance company that wrote the $25 million infertility policy on Cigar. The Maryland-bred champion failed to impregnate any of the mares he was bred to at Ashford Stud in Kentucky.

McCarthy would conduct tests on the 7-year-old retired racer to determine whether he might be capable of a second try at fatherhood.

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