After ending Derby drought, Prado finishes in happy state

May 07, 2006|By JOHN EISENBERG

Louisville, KY. -- If you know Edgar Prado, as Maryland racing fans do, you probably could scarcely believe he was the jockey celebrating so wildly on Barbaro immediately after yesterday's Kentucky Derby.

When he dominated Maryland racing in the 1990s, Prado was known for being unflappable, unemotional, as cool as they come. His composure was part of what made him such a splendid jockey.

But after his stunningly easy Derby victory yesterday, Prado, 39, repeatedly thrust his arms into the air and pointed to Barbaro before dismounting, seemingly trying to encourage more and more noise from the crowd.

He did everything but beat his chest and shout at the sky after the 6 1/2 -length victory.

"I guess I was getting a little excited," Prado said sheepishly later. "But it is just such a great day, and this is such a great horse, and I just got the feeling that we could have a Triple Crown this year."

Not that Prado was lacking for reasons to exult like never before.

Although the native of Peru, who came to America in 1986, has long been regarded as one of the best active riders in this country - he has won two Belmont Stakes, several Breeders' Cup events and numerous other major races to support the claim - his first Derby victory is clearly his finest achievement.

"Only a handful of jockeys have gotten it done in this great race," Prado said. "I'm very glad to be one of them now."

But just as important to him, it seemed, was the chance to dedicate the victory to his mother, Cenaida, who died in January.

Prado, whose sense of family was evident when he brought his wife and two children onto the interview podium after yesterday's race, said he has been thinking of his mother after all of Barbaro's victories. He has won four in a row on the undefeated horse.

"She was my inspiration," he said of his mother. "When I first came to America, things were very hard for me. But she told me to keep working hard and never forget where I came from. Those were valuable words and I have tried to live up to them.

"I was able to bring her to the Derby several times, but I never got the job done when she was here. [He was 0-for-6 in the race before yesterday.] Now that I have, I'm dedicating it to her."

Another reason for Prado to exult is that he now gets to come "home" to Maryland as the Derby winner. It should be quite a homecoming.

Although he left for New York in 2000 because he had done all he could and needed the larger stage, he smiled when recalling his years at Laurel and Pimlico, where he led all riders in wins in six different years from 1991 to 1999.

"Maryland did so much for me," he said. "The people there supported me for 11 years. I raised my kids there. I have many friends there. I will never forget where I came from. It would be great to go there and win the Preakness with this horse. I would dedicate it to each and every person [in Maryland]."

His ride on Barbaro yesterday, which made such thoughts possible, was a Prado classic. After weeks of speculation that the speed horses in the 20-horse field would set a dangerously fast early pace, many jockeys seemingly hung back, afraid to run with the leaders for fear of tiring out their horses. Prado, bold as ever, settled Barbaro in front of that tentative pack but closer to the leaders.

In a lucky stroke, he had all the running room he wanted in the little cocoon that developed, and then, heading into the second turn, he asked Barbaro to run. That was the end of the race, effectively. The colt swept around the tiring frontrunners and took the lead. None of the 19 other horses mounted a challenge in the stretch.

"I looked around a couple of times, but no one was ever there," Prado said. "I wasn't surprised. Every step of the way, he was just running so easy. And with the long haul to go [in the race], I wasn't worried about the horses in front of me. He was just going so easy."

He crossed the finish line, came to a halt, did a quick interview with NBC and galloped back to the grandstand, where he and Barbaro were greeted with an ovation. It was such a grand moment for the former Maryland star that, for once, the unflappable Prado couldn't help showing his emotions.

"The people who know me were probably a little surprised," he said.

Surprised that he went a little wild in the saddle? Yes.

But surprised that he finally added the Kentucky Derby to his list of accomplishments? Hardly.

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