While he was honing himself for the New York racing stage in Maryland, jockey Edgar Prado rode favorite after favorite as the local bettors heavily backed his every mount, no matter what the form.
But insiders agreed that Prado, with his ability to rate and relax his assigned animals, was at his most dangerous on a horse that appeared to have little or no chance to win.
Yesterday, Prado demonstrated that he hasn't lost that touch, steering Sarava, the longest-priced winner in Belmont Stakes history, into the record books and spoiling War Emblem's quest for the first Triple Crown since 1978.
It was a day of vindication for the man who captured three straight national riding titles (1997-99) but had been unable to break into the Triple Crown winner's circle.
After the Prado-guided, Kentucky Derby favorite Harlan's Holiday finished a well-beaten seventh, Prado's son, Edgar Jr., 16, was distraught.
"He was very disappointed after the ride in the Derby," Prado said after dedicating Sarava's stunning win to his son on national television. "He was very sad after all the work put in to get there. But I told him that if everything came so easy, there would be nothing but people who didn't have to work for it."
Prado is, after all, a workaholic who thrives on riding every race and taking horses to the track in the morning. He believes strongly in the ethic of having to earn things.
And the rewards all came together on a perfect June afternoon at his home track, as Prado took a virtually unknown horse on a magical journey, re-affirming the strength of the Prado-Ken McPeek union.
"Edgar and I have great rhythm together," McPeek said. "I really like him; he's a first-class individual. He's only lost two races for me [the Kentucky Derby and Preakness]. He's won five stakes in seven rides."
Said Prado: "After those two, his [win] percentage went down a little bit, and I was kind of concerned about that. I think now I can hang around a little longer. I'm glad Kenny gave me one more opportunity."
Prado said his family was split, some watching the telecast in his native Peru, others in Florida.
During an interview last week, he said that it is not always the best horse that wins the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont, but the one with the most stamina.
He said that Sarava had been "easy to ride" during a four-length score in the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness Day. "He really started running at the end."
That's why Prado believed the Belmont was a wide-open race that anyone could win and that Sarava - despite 70-to-1 odds - had an equal chance.
"We went into the race thinking positive," the jockey said. "The horse was very sharp, very calm. We were in a good position all the way around, and when I called on him he responded well. It was like a dream come true."