Before relocating to N.Y. in '99, Derby winner was a Md. legend

Prado riding tall for Pimlico return

Preakness Stakes

Saturday // Pimlico Race Course

Post time // 6:14 p.m.

May 17, 2006|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

With the clock in his head, the calming touch of his hands and the competitive fire in his heart, Edgar Prado is very nearly the perfect jockey.

Humble, dedicated, unflappable, Prado is fast approaching the pinnacle of a racing career that began in Lima, Peru.

It was this collection of skills - both acquired and innate - that made him a Maryland legend in the 1990s, when he was the leading rider in 24 meets at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park.

And it is the same set of assets that has pushed Prado to the head of the class now, marking his long journey to racing's big time.

Prado, a first-time Kentucky Derby winner this month, will attempt to add the second leg of the Triple Crown in Saturday's Preakness aboard Barbaro.

Asked which horse in a reduced field might give Prado trouble, Maryland trainer Dale Capuano was quick with an answer:

"Bad luck. That's the only thing that can give him any trouble."

Prado won hundreds of races for Capuano - and hundreds more for other Maryland trainers - before relocating to New York in 1999.

Michael Dickinson was one of the other trainers. Here is his critique of Prado: "A tactical genius ... always in the right place at the right time ... he anticipates what happens before it happens ... has a sharp mind ... a true horseman, strong in the finish, but sympathetic when he needs to be."

At 38, after more than 5,600 victories and $173 million in career earnings, Prado might still be in ascension. Just as when he burst onto the Maryland scene 17 years ago, his rise is tied to the departure of other high-profile jockeys.

Back then, it was Kent Desormeaux, who dominated Maryland tracks, leaving for California. Now, it's the retirement of Hall of Fame riders Jerry Bailey, Pat Day and Gary Stevens that opened the door, ostensibly to better mounts and bigger purses.

According to Equibase figures, Prado leads all jockeys this year with $6.07 million in earnings. He captured a riding title last year in New York with 206 wins. He managed his first Breeders' Cup victories in October.

The Preakness is the only Triple Crown race he hasn't won, and Barbaro will be a heavy favorite Saturday.

"Horses just run for him," Capuano said. "He's naturally good-handed on a horse. He's quiet when he needs to be. He gets a lot of run out of them. He can ride just about any type of horse."

Mary Eppler, another Maryland trainer for whom Prado has ridden and won, suggested that he has an extra sense on the track that results in rare patience.

"He has a very good clock in his head, so if you have a very [fast] pace up front, he will know if it's going to come back," she said.

More than that, though, Eppler appreciates Prado's quiet demeanor in the saddle.

"I love his just being quiet and getting a horse to relax, and when he wants it to run, he asks it and they put out. When you care about horses and ride them that way, they know it," she said.

Prado, whose father, Jose, was an assistant trainer in Peru when Edgar was a child, has a reputation for treating horses well.

Prado said his compassion came from growing up around horses.

"I've been with horses all my life," he said. "I'm more a horse lover than anything else."

Prado said his competitive nature did not come from growing up as the second-youngest of 11 children, eight of them boys. Even at a young age, he was the quintessential team player.

"You can't be competitive with your brothers," he said. "You have to pull together. We did the best we could do to accomplish something, but we wouldn't compete."

Prado, Peru's top jockey in 1984, landed in Miami in 1986. Boston was next, and in 1989 he arrived in Maryland, where his competitive nature led to some friction in the jockeys room. He was competitive to an extreme.

"I wasn't here when he first came," said retired jockey Mario Verge, a claims clerk at Pimlico. "What I understood was that he was too aggressive. When you do that, it can get you in trouble. When he overcame that, he became a great rider."

By the time Steve Hamilton rode against him, Prado was on his way to greatness. He was aggressive but not reckless.

"Edgar was a very competitive guy," said Hamilton, also retired. "He would never cross the line to put you in a bad situation. He was considerate of other riders, but he wasn't going to let you do whatever you wanted."

Prado was so consistent on Maryland tracks that bettors favored him against almost any odds. If Prado rode it, the fans bet it.

"He will get the best out of that horse," Verge said. "He always puts a horse in a spot that he can win the race. One thing he cannot do, he cannot make a horse fly. You still have to have the horse."

In Barbaro, Prado has a chance to produce the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. In a twist, it was Prado who scored Belmont victories - aboard Sarava (2002) and Birdstone (2004) - when War Emblem and Smarty Jones failed to make Triple Crown history.

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