Prado a party pooper?

Jockey has chance to derail Triple Crown run for third time

Belmont Stakes

June 05, 2008|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

ELMONT, N.Y. -- As Big Brown points toward making history Saturday, the biggest road block he might face is jockey Edgar Prado, a mild-mannered man who is recognized as racing's Triple Crown spoiler.

Prado just happens to be riding Casino Drive, the horse most handicappers believe has the best chance of ending Big Brown's Triple Crown chances in the Belmont Stakes. And Prado, who dominated the Maryland circuit in the 1990s and won his first Kentucky Derby in 2006 aboard the ill-fated Barbaro, has already ended the Triple Crown drives of two other thoroughbreds in the past six years.

"I got lucky the last two times," Prado said.

Lucky hardly covers it.

Prado rode Savara, the longest shot ever to win the Belmont Stakes, at 70-1, ending War Emblem's chance at Triple Crown greatness in 2002. And in 2004, he directed 36-1 Birdstone past the until-then undefeated Smarty Jones.

A victory Saturday would give him his own triple play.

Casino Drive has raced just twice and will be bucking history - a lot of history, given just two horses, Algerine in 1876 and Prince Eugene in 1913, have won with so little experience in the 1 1/2 -mile race. The Japanese-owned and -trained Casino Drive was made the 7-2 second choice at yesterday's draw and will break from the No. 5 post. Big Brown is the prohibitive favorite at 2-5 and drew the No. 1 post.

Of Prado's two upset victories, the one on Birdstone twisted his emotions the most.

War Emblem had pretty much beaten himself when he stumbled from the starting gate in 2002, but Smarty Jones appeared headed for victory down the stretch. A crowd of 120,000 was on its feet screaming for a historic finish, when Prado, the only rider with a chance to end the dream, surged five-wide and passed Smarty for a one-length victory in the final 70 yards.

"My heart was with Smarty," Prado said. "I was the last horse going by him. ... But I'm there to do my job the best way possible and achieve my goal of winning."

It will be the same Saturday.

"You definitely want to go into the race with the idea you can win," said Prado, who thinks he has a chance, given his horse is fresh and the 1 1/2 -mile course is a first for all the contenders, including Big Brown. "But definitely a Triple Crown would be great for the sport."

It's an intriguing matchup, this expected duel between two competitive horses and two equally competitive jockeys - Prado, who will celebrate his 41st birthday next Thursday, and Kent Desormeaux, 38.

Both horses have had precocious careers - Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby off three starts and from the No. 20 post and then the Preakness, and Casino Drive won his first two races, including an impressive victory in Belmont's Peter Pan, his only U.S. race.

To get to this point, the horses have trained completely differently. While Big Brown has jogged, galloped and had a final beautiful breeze Tuesday, allaying fears about his cracked hoof, Casino Drive has seemed to barely train at all.

He can be seen every morning touring the horse paths of the Belmont barn area between his two stable mates, Spark Candle and Champaign Squaw, his head down, his legs pumping for an hour. Then he goes to the track for a leisurely jog before another 45- to 60-minute power walk. His final work is scheduled for today.

Casino Drive's work was so slow last week, the Belmont clockers didn't even give it an official reading. Still, Nobutaka Tada, racing manager for Casino Drive's owner, said he is happy with the way Casino Drive is training. Big Brown trainer Rick Dutrow also was happy with his horse's going five furlongs in a minute Tuesday.

The differences between the jockeys are less noticeable. Both learned to win at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park. Desormeaux dominated Maryland from 1987 through 1989, winning two of his three Eclipse Awards there. When Desormeaux left, Prado emerged, dominating the scene from 1990 through 1999.

Prado, who will be inducted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame this summer, was the nation's leading rider in victories from 1997 through 1999, but didn't win his first Eclipse until 2006, after he and Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby.

But Prado downplays the idea of a rivalry with Desormeaux.

"When you're a competitive rider, you get satisfaction from winning," he said. "My goal is winning. When I win, the satisfaction is there no matter who is on the other horses."

Desormeaux, meanwhile, said there is a long-standing rivalry.

"It goes back to Maryland," Desormeaux said. "He was always my chief challenger, but at the end of the day, we have a shared deep respect for each other."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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