Saratoga 2nd home for Prado

Rider picks up where he left off in Maryland

August 26, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Even with its red-and-white-striped awnings, world-class racing and festive atmosphere, Saratoga yesterday seemed a lot like Maryland.

Edgar Prado, Maryland's leading jockey in the 1990s, claimed Saratoga as his own, finishing first or second in every race he rode. Prado competed in five of Saratoga's 10 races. He won three and finished second twice.

"This is where he belongs," said Maryland trainer Vinnie Blengs after Prado won with Blengs' 11-1 Michael Ivar. "He fits right in with these jockeys."

The jockeys here rank among the country's elite. With his three victories, Prado moved into a tie for third place in the Saratoga jockey standings. Prado and Pat Day, a celebrated member of racing's Hall of Fame, have each won 20 races.

That's more than Prado envisioned when he decided at the last minute to ride at Saratoga during its prestigious six-week meet. Sitting at a picnic table outside the jockeys' room between races, he said he couldn't be happier with how things have turned out.

"This is the toughest meet in the coun try," Prado said. "And to have 17 wins, that's super."

Prado said that after finishing second on Case Dismissed in the second race, but before winning with Chief Seattle in the fifth, Michael Ivar in the seventh and Yodelman in the eighth.

After winning with Michael Ivar for Blengs, who is based at Laurel Park, Prado said: "It's always good to win, but it's especially good to win for Maryland people."

Fans slapped him on the back as he walked from the winner's circle back to the jockeys' room. They applauded him, called out his name and thrust programs into his hands for him to autograph.

That is heady stuff, even for the jockey who led the nation in wins the past two years. But here at Saratoga, the fans aren't the only ones enamored with Prado. Some trainers have begun recognizing his talents, as well.

"He's riding great. He's always ridden great. Nothing's changed there," said Joe Orseno, the New York trainer for whom Prado won with Yodelman and finished second with Case Dismissed. "It's just that he's finally getting noticed."

Orseno praised Prado's knack for keeping a horse out of trouble, finishing powerfully, thinking wisely and generally being a nice guy -- the same attributes bestowed upon Prado for years by Maryland trainers.

Orseno has asked Prado whether he'd like to ride for him this winter in New York. Orseno is the primary trainer for Frank Stronach, who owns some of the finest thoroughbreds in the country.

"He needs to ride the better races and pick up the big horses which, unfortunately, if he stays in Maryland he's not going to do," Orseno said. "If he stayed in New York, I'd ride him on everything."

Prado said he's wrestling with career choices. After Saratoga closes Sept. 6, he plans on riding at Belmont Park during its six-week fall meet. After that, he doesn't know.

He could stay in New York and ride for Orseno at Aqueduct. He could return to Maryland. Or he could return to Maryland for a couple of months and then fly south to Gulfstream Park for its premier meet.

Like all jockeys, Prado dreams of riding top horses in the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup. And he knows the chances of landing a Derby favorite are far better in Florida than in Maryland.

On the other hand, he enjoys his stable life in Maryland. He lives on a farm in Woodstock in Howard County with his wife, Liliana, and their three young children. Prado is 32.

"We've got to keep the family together. That's the main thing," Prado said. "It doesn't matter how much money you make or how many winning horses you ride; if you don't keep your family together and raise your kids right, it doesn't matter."

And Prado remains loyal to his home state. He moved to Maryland in 1989 after a couple of years riding in south Florida. He emigrated from Peru in 1986.

"Maryland's been so good to me," Prado said. "Because of Maryland, I am who I am. If it wasn't for people in Maryland, I wouldn't be here."

But Prado is here, and he's turned heads by his unlikely ascent in the jockey standings. He started slowly because of his last-minute arrival. He hasn't ridden the best horses. Of the top 12 trainers, he has ridden for only three.

That is about to change. Prado has been riding in four or five races a day. Tomorrow, he rides in every one. And he rides a horse for Shug McGaughey, a high-profile trainer of horses for blue-blooded owners used to employing only the very best.

Pub Date: 8/26/99

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