ELMONT, N.Y. - Edgar Prado has ridden in nine Triple Crown races and never finished better than fourth.
The former Maryland jockey kingpin seemed to be on track for a better result this year when he entered the Kentucky Derby with favored Harlan's Holiday. It didn't happen.
Harlan's Holiday was a dull seventh in Kentucky, then, as the third betting choice in the Preakness, finished fourth.
"That's racing," Prado said. "At first, we wondered if he shouldn't have been closer to the pace. But I don't think it would have made a difference. He made his move and didn't finish. He did the same thing Preakness Day. It was unfortunate, but it didn't work out the way we wanted."
Harlan's Holiday is no longer in the barn of trainer Ken McPeek, so Prado will compete in his first Belmont Stakes tomorrow with the relatively untested Sarava, another McPeek charge who will be a decided long shot.
Sarava captured the Sir Barton Stakes on Preakness Day in relatively easy fashion, so McPeek is giving him a shot at the big boys.
"He was very easy to ride," said Prado, who was aboard the colt for the first time at Pimlico. "He really started going at the end - after a mile. And at a mile and a half, it's not always the best horse who wins, but the strongest."
Prado, three times the nation's leading rider in victories, moved his tack to New York "to be able to pick out good horses to ride in big races. You can only do that here, in California and Kentucky. So far, it has worked out well."
Can Sarava elevate him past the fourth-place finishes of Hot Wells (1998 Preakness) and Thunder Blitz (2001 Derby)?
"You never know," he said. "That's what makes racing so interesting."
Puzzlement is out
The Belmont field was reduced to 11 yesterday by the withdrawal of long shot Puzzlement, who suffered a bruised right front foot.
The runner-up to Sunday Break in the Peter Pan Stakes on May 25, he was discovered "lame this morning when we were preparing to go to the track with him," said trainer H. Allen Jerkens, who was uncertain how the injury occurred.
Puzzlement worked 1 1/8 miles Monday in an unusually long tuneup, but had shown no problems afterward. However, an abscess formed around the bruise and is likely to break shortly.
Jerkens was encouraged that the injury was not more serious.
You, `Bella' to battle
You and Bella Bellucci, two of the finest of their generation, will collide in today's appetizer to the Belmont, the Grade I, $250,000 Acorn, which serves as the first leg of the Triple Tiara, New York's Triple Crown series for 3-year-old fillies.
Six are entered, including Willa On the Move, trained by Maryland regular Rodney Jenkins, but the battle is expected to be between Bella Bellucci - shooting for a fifth win in six starts - and You, a Grade I winner twice this year.
Bella Bellucci might have been the favorite over Take Charge Lady in the Kentucky Oaks, but was withdrawn from the race with a low blood count.
"She's back on track. I've been pleased with her progress over the last few weeks," said trainer Neil Drysdale.
You was fourth in the Oaks, leading trainer Bobby Frankel to comment that "nine furlongs is a little too far. She's as sharp as ever. The turnback [they go a mile today] helps."
The other stakes on today's card is the Grade III, $100,000-added Flash for 2-year-old colts. Renegade Warrior, Windsor Lodge and Mason City are the most highly regarded.
Sharp Face rallies
The Grade I, $100,000 Meadow Brook jump race yesterday turned into a chaotic event when one of the heavily bet horses, Storm Touch, fell early and proceeded to keep running, avoiding hurdles, but several times impeding the leader, Anofferucantrefuse.
Anofferucantrefuse - trained by Tom Voss - led virtually all the way in an attempt to repeat his winning performance in the Joe Atchieson Handicap at Pimlico three weeks earlier, but he couldn't withstand the closing bid of 50-to-1 long shot Sharp Face, who prevailed by a length and paid $103 to win.
Sharp Face is trained by Marylander Jack Fisher, who had no luck with him in this year's other Steeplechase Triple Crown races (a far-back fifth and a no-finish).
"I don't know why he ran so much better here than he did in the first two legs," said winning rider Chip Miller. "Maybe I rode him better. The falling horses didn't hurt me. They helped by taking out one of the favorites."
Four others in the 10-horse field also fell.
3 straight for `Runner'
In the $81,050 Fashion Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, D. Wayne Lukas trainee Holiday Runner remained undefeated in three races by staving off a big rush from Miss Mary Apples, who finished a head back of the 1-to-5 choice.
Xtra Heat is back
Sensational Maryland filly Xtra Heat returns to action here Sunday carrying high weight of 127 pounds in the Grade II, $150,000 Vagrancy Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs.
While bidding for her 21st career victory, she will be conceding nine pounds or more to a field that looks to have six rivals.
Cay Cat figures as the primary threat under 118 pounds.