With reins, he reigns Horse racing: Edgar Prado lives and breathes horses, and his single-minded pursuit of excellence has made the Maryland jockey one of the nation's finest.

December 22, 1998|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Edgar Prado may leave the racetrack, but never the horses.

Thundering thoroughbreds in photos and paintings hang on the walls of his home in Woodstock. Cupboards and coffee tables gleam with equine trophies. In Prado's living room, a big-screen TV trumpets race after race from track after track, an endless montage of flying hooves.

It's the jockey's day off, and he's immersed in the ponies.

Prado, who on Friday celebrated a milestone -- 1,000 wins over two years -- watches videotapes of each victory not to savor the race, but to pick it apart.

"He tries to correct himself; he wants to be perfect," says Prado's wife, Liliana. From the kitchen, where she is peeling potatoes, Liliana can see her husband on the edge of the sofa, straining forward as if in the saddle, eyes glued to the TV. His mount, Flying Monkey, is alongside another, barreling down the stretch at Laurel Park.

As they flash across the finish, it's Flying Monkey, who else? But Prado has spotted a flaw in victory No. 982. He shakes his head. Liliana rolls her eyes.

"He always says, 'I should have done this,' or 'I shouldn't have done that,' " she says. "He wants to be the best."

The numbers bear that out. Last year, Prado, a mainstay at Maryland tracks, led the country with 536 victories, third all-time behind Kent Desormeaux (598 in 1989) and Chris McCarron (546 in 1974).

Now, Prado has passed another benchmark. Again the nation's top jockey, his 468 victories give him a two-year total of 1,004. Only Desormeaux and McCarron have been there, too.

His peers applaud Prado and paint him as role model.

"Racing is a game of mistakes, but very seldom do you see Edgar make one," says Mark Johnston, one of Laurel's top riders.

"I'm striving to be what he is," says jockey Seth Martinez, 19. "One thousand wins is phenomenal. To associate with someone like that is like hitting behind Mark McGwire."

At 31, Prado has hit his stride.

"I love my job," he says, which helps explain why this diligent, dark-haired Peruvian has become the nation's winningest rider. Prado's racing acumen is unsurpassed, say Maryland horsemen, who marvel at his cool head, sensitive hands and compassionate heart.

"What Edgar has is horse sense," says jockey Mario Pino, a 19-year veteran.

"He molds to his mounts so well," trainer Dale Capuano says, "it's like he's a part of the horse, not a passenger."

Few jockeys care as much about the animal's well-being, says trainer Graham Motion. "Edgar is one of the rare ones who will stop by the barn after a race to check on the horse," he says.

It's no wonder the 5-foot-4, 110-pound Prado has become the most sought-after rider on the Maryland circuit.

"One of the biggest assets of having Edgar ride for you is that he's not riding against you," says Motion. "I don't want that son of a gun turning at the top of the stretch and riding neck and neck with my horse."

Prado's savvy stems from a lifetime spent around horses and those who own, train and ride them. The son of an assistant trainer in Lima, Peru, he was mucking out stables at age 5, exercising horses at 14 and racing a year later. His earnings helped his impoverished family turn the corner. Literally. The Prados -- all 13 of them -- left a spartan two-room flat for one with five rooms.

An overnight star, Prado was not. "My first race [1983], I finished last -- way, way back," he says. Six weeks later, he finally scored aboard a colt named Tatin and was so excited, "I hugged the horse."

As the victories mounted, American tracks beckoned. At 18, Prado emigrated to Miami, then moved to Boston, tagging along after trainers who offered him work. He parlayed his winnings into passage for three siblings to the United States, as well as his marriage to Liliana, the daughter of a track veterinarian whom he'd met while competing in Peru. They wed in 1988.

A year later, Prado arrived in Maryland, winning his initial race at Laurel on a $45 long shot, Long Alure. The horse broke from the middle of the track, angled inside and clung to the rail until the end, surging ahead to win by four lengths. The pattern would become vintage Prado.

The next day, he won two races. By the end of the first week, he'd won five.

His assertive style paid off on the track, but sometimes caused trouble off it. Prado's obsession to win aggravated other riders, who'd confront the new kid between races. The jockeys traded words -- or punches.

"Ronnie Franklin and I went at it from the snack bar to the stairs," Prado said of one back-room brawl at Pimlico Race Course. "We pulled hair, rolling on the floor."

In 1989, he tussled with Desormeaux, then Maryland's top rider, who had approached Prado after a race at Laurel. "Why did you ride that way?" Desormeaux asked. Fists flew in the jockeys' room before a valet stopped the fight.

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