On 10th try, Prado's number comes up: 500 Ending 0-for-8 day, jockey gets milestone victory at Laurel

December 01, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Jockey Edgar Prado rode into history yesterday.

On a gray and misty final day of November, Prado overcame an afternoon of frustration with a nose victory in the final race at Laurel Park and joined three other jockeys with 500 wins in a single year.

The milestone came aboard Hardball, the 10th-race favorite, who had to outlast hard-charging long shot Life's Dance and survive a photograph for Prado's first victory on the program.

It was a fitting climax to a card on which Prado had finished second in five events -- beaten by a half-length or less four times -- and third twice.

"This is an unbelievable accomplishment," said fellow rider Seth Martinez, whom Prado out-finished for No. 500. "Edgar has worked hard all his life for this. Some people can only think about it, but he's one of the best."

As usual, Prado was low-key after a celebration in the winner's circle that included a trophy, flowers and a banner from the Maryland Jockey Club and a few hecklers who thought Martinez's horse had won.

Fellow jockey Larry Reynolds doused Prado with water, the remainder of the crowd cheered and Hardball seemed confused by all the commotion around him.

"There is a lot of work to this," said Prado. "Between here and Delaware [Park], you have to ride seven days a week. I'm going to celebrate by going home and enjoying my family."

Prado, 30, is married with three children.

The achievement had been denied him Saturday after he had ridden five winners. In the final race, Prado was leading and clear of the field aboard You Don't Say when the horse suffered a fractured right foreleg about 100 yards from the finish.

His next target is Canadian-born Sandy Hawley, who won 515 races in 1973, then Chris McCarron, who had 546 victories in 1974. The record of 598, set by Kent Desormeaux in 1989, appears out of reach.

"He [Desormeaux] was riding day and night up in New Jersey," Prado said. "I've only ridden during the day. But if I ride a lot next month and win enough, I could get second."

Prado was philosophical about his earlier near-misses yesterday. "Everything was going well. I just was getting beat right there [at the finish]," he said. "It just wasn't meant to be until that special horse came up."

A relentless worker, Prado is often at the track at 5 a.m. to work four or five horses daily during training hours. That ethic and his ability to rate a mount and judge pace during a race have made him a coveted jockey for many trainers.

His agent, Steve Rushing, coordinates his selection of mounts and ruffles the feathers of trainers who do not get Prado's services. Rushing said his major client's mounts have won more than $8 million this year.

"Finally," Rushing said with a relieved tone. "I've thought this was coming since about the middle of the year."

With the national riding title all but clinched (Russell Baze is some 90 winners behind him), Prado could entertain thoughts of moving on to bigger purses in New York or California.

His only other attempt at that -- in winter 1994 in New York -- was not productive, and he returned to Maryland.

"So far, I plan to stay here," he said. "No decision has been made to move, but you never know. I'm just playing it day by day."

McCarron and Desormeaux left Maryland -- where they reached the 500 mark -- for greater riches on the California circuit.

A native of Peru, Prado came to this country in 1986 and first competed in Florida, where he had limited success. Trainer Bob Klesaris sent a division of horses to New England, and Prado went there to ride.

By 1989, he was in Maryland permanently, winning his first race at a $55 mutuel. "We were off to the races," said Rushing.

At the time, trainer Fran Campitelli said: "He should catch on here. I think he'll be a rider in demand."

How right he was.

Prado's earlier problems were typified in the feature, the $60,000 Heavenly Cause Stakes, when Greg Hutton and Cosmo Topper beat him and favored Maragold Princess by a half-length.

"Edgar's won enough races. I need one," said Hutton in the winner's circle.

500 club

Jockeys who have had 500 wins in a year:

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

K. Desormeaux . .. 598 ... 1989

Chris McCarron ... 546 ... 1974

Sandy Hawley .. .. 515 ... 1973

Edgar Prado ... .. 500 ... 1997

Pub Date: 12/01/97

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