A leg up on 500 wins Horse racing: Edgar Prado, with 450 wins, is on verge of joining an elite group of jockeys. Only Kent Desormeaux, Chris McCarron and Sandy Hawley have won more than 500 in a year.

October 29, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Edgar Prado can't remember the last time he took a day off. But he knows precisely why he's working seven days a week.

The dominant jockey in Maryland throughout the 1990s, Prado is closing in on one of horse racing's most elusive marks. He is 50 victories shy of 500 in one year.

Only three jockeys have ever topped 500. With 64 days left in 1997 and Prado winning a race or two or three a day, he seems assured of joining the exclusive 500 club.

"To reach 500 would be excellent," said Prado, a 30-year-old native of Peru. "I'm working hard to do that. So far, it's been a very good year for me."

Prado leads all North American jockeys in wins by such a large margin that it's almost certain he'll capture that laurel for the first time in his career. His 450 tower over Russell Baze's 343. Baze, who rides in northern California, has won more than 400 races in each of the past five years.

This year, the workaholic Prado has ridden about 500 more horses than Baze. But their winning percentages are similar: Baze's 28.8 percent to Prado's 26.3 percent. Both figures are remarkable. The national average is 6 percent.

Modest and soft-spoken, Prado said he's riding no differently than in past years. He's a versatile rider who fits horses with early speed as well as horses with late power. He has a knack for positioning horses so they have a chance to win.

"You learn every day you ride," he said. "But if you don't have good horses to ride, that doesn't do you any good.

"I've been riding a lot of good horses this year. I've got good trainers behind me. I'm very lucky. It's better to be lucky than good."

Prado smiled. He had every reason to.

First, he has escaped injury. "Knock on wood," he said.

Second, his 1,710 mounts this year have earned $7.2 million. In addition to winning 450 races -- his previous high was 351 in 1992 -- Prado has recorded 321 seconds and 247 thirds.

Since March, when he first realized he had won more races than Baze, Prado has ridden nearly every day -- Wednesday through Sunday at Pimlico, Timonium and Laurel Park (or Colonial Downs in Virginia), and Monday and Tuesday at Delaware Park.

If need be, Prado said, he'll ride day and night, driving to Penn National for evening duty after matinees at Laurel or Delaware Park.

If he reaches 500, Prado might stretch toward 515. That's how many races Sandy Hawley won in 1973.

Even Chris McCarron's 546 might be within reach. But Kent Desormeaux's 598 seem safe.

McCarron and Desormeaux established those marks while based in Maryland. McCarron's stellar year was 1974, Desormeaux's 1989.

Coincidentally, 1989 was the year Prado settled in Maryland after riding a couple of years in Florida and New England. He came to the United States in 1986 -- an 18-year-old who couldn't speak English -- after becoming the leading jockey in Peru.

Desormeaux and McCarron departed for California. Although tempted by greater riches in the West -- and the prospects of securing mounts on horses aimed for Triple Crown races -- Prado has resisted and remained in Maryland.

He may leave someday, he said. But for now, he said, he's happy riding seven or eight horses a day, many of them favorites, and living in Woodstock with his wife and three children, aged 11, 4 and 2 1/2 .

Prado's agent of 10 years, Steve Rushing -- who books the jockey's mounts -- sorts through trainers' offers, often several for the same race. It's a minefield Rushing walks, trying to placate trainers and do what's best for Prado.

"I take the heat," said Rushing, 34. "But as long as they're mad at me, and still ride Edgar, that's OK."

As Prado inches closer to 500, 515 or even 546, Rushing will be the one pulling strings, coordinating mounts, contacting trainers throughout the mid-Atlantic.

"To me, if Edgar got to 500 -- and that's a very attainable goal -- that's something to be very proud of," Rushing said. "With all the riders in the world, it's amazing only three have ever gotten there."

The 500 club

Jockeys who have had 500 wins in a year:

Jockey .. .. .. .. Wins .. Year

Kent Desormeaux ... 598 .. 1989

Chris McCarron . .. 546 .. 1974

pTC Sandy Hawley ... .. 515 .. 1973

Top Laurel jockeys

Laurel Park jockey standings, Oct. 15 to present:

Jockey .. .. .. .. Mounts .. Wins

E. Prado ... .. .. ... 69 .. . 19

M. Johnston ... .. ... 59 .. . 13

M. V. Pino . .. .. ... 43 .. .. 9

C. Marquez Jr. ... ... 49 .. .. 7

C. O. Klinger . .. ... 42 .. .. 7

S. Hamilton ... .. ... 53 .. .. 6

G. Hutton .. .. .. ... 25 .. .. 6

S. Martinez ... .. ... 40 .. .. 4

J. Stisted . .. .. ... 28 .. .. 4

L. Reynolds ... .. ... 12 .. .. 3

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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