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Success without the fame

Edgar Prado may not be the most well-known jockey, but his triumphs are undeniable.

BRANT JAMES
Published May 2, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Edgar Prado thought he had it last year. At last.

A career awash with success, dominance even, at every stage would finally have its missing piece: a Triple Crown win, specifically the Kentucky Derby.

But faster than Harlan's Holiday could hit the wall and become another failed favorite, the veteran jockey lost a precious opportunity.

Then Prado, arguably the best jockey most once-a-year fans have never heard of, seized opportunity back, riding long-shot Sarava to an upset victory in a Belmont Stakes that denied War Emblem the Triple Crown.

"Last year was a roller-coaster ride," Prado said. "But you can't rest on your laurels. That's all history."

Prado's chance to ride into history as a Kentucky Debry winner on Saturday will depend on whether he can wrangle Peace Rules, the second, somewhat overshadowed slugger in Bobby Frankel's stable, to his third consecutive victory.

"We have a shot, a very good shot," Prado said. "It's just good to be on a contender."

Prado, 35, got his contender when Peace Rules' former jockey, 2002 Derby winner Victor Espinoza, committed to another prospect, Kafwain, earlier this spring. Prado, like Espinoza, went 2-for-2 on Peace Rules, but Prado took the colt into the next phase as a Derby candidate. Together Prado and Peace Rules won the Grade II Louisiana Derby by 21/4 lengths over Kafwain, prompting trainer Bob Baffert to remove Espinoza, then rolled to a 31/2-length win in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes.

The selection of Prado suddenly looked like another tack-sharp move by Frankel.

"I pick the jockey and horse by their styles and the styles seemed to fit," Frankel said. "I hope they fit. I picked them."

Prado is no braggart, but he's intensely proud of a career that started as a poorly paid teenage jockey in Peru and saw him win more than $18-million last year. If more people have not heard of him, he said, they're not watching.

"If people do not know me, they haven't been watching racing for the past 10 years," he said.

There has been plenty to see. Prado was second in North America in earnings last year. He led the nation in wins in 1997 (536), '98 (470) and '99 (402). His 536 wins in 1997 made him just the fourth to top 500 in a season. In 2002 he also took the Saratoga riding title away from perennial champ Jerry Bailey.

Through April 21, Prado was second in the nation behind Bailey in earnings with $5,027,297, trailing by about $800,000, and had 79 wins, 65 seconds and 75 thirds in 477 starts.

Prado earned his first Derby mount in 2000, finishing 17th aboard Commendable and was fourth with Thunder Blitz in 2001. Back then he was a replacement jockey, filling gaps when the elite snatched up the contenders. Now he's among the Baileys and Pat Days as first-call riders.

"It is good to be among the elite riders, but a lot of people have supported me," Prado said. "It's a lot easier for me to ride a terrible race on a good horse than a good race on a terrible horse."

Prado is still amazed he has come so far. Born in Lima, Peru, he began riding at small tracks there for next to nothing when he was 16 years old. By 1984 he was the leading rider in the country and in 1986 he immigrated to the United States in search of a bigger prize. After breaking in as contract rider with Manuel Azpurua on the South Florida circuit, he settled in Maryland in 1997, where he became a dominating rider, capable of swinging odds merely by mounting a horse. A statistical dynamo, he struggled to attain the confidence of trainers at a national level until John Kimmel invited him to ride for him in New York in 1999. Kimmel had lost Richard Migliore to a broken arm and needed someone to ride his stock at Saratoga.

The replacement soon was earning mounts from several trainers and legitimized himself nationally by finishing second to Bailey in the overall standings.

"The thing with Edgar is he's not only talented, but he's a gentleman and as a horseman you really appreciate that," Kimmel said. "The morning after a race he'll be down in the barn checking on how a horse is, whether he ran well or ran bad."

Kimmel said the only bad decision Prado has made since that Saratoga meet is his new moustache. "Not a good idea," he said. "Makes him look old."

But not feel old.

"Every time I put on the silks I'm going out there to enjoy my work and do my best," Prado said. "You have to enjoy yourself. You only get so much in your career."

He will dare to ask for a little more. At least one Derby win.

"Some very good riders go a whole career and never even get to ride in a Derby," he said. "It would be unbelievable. I cannot even describe it."

Luckily for Prado, his chances are likely to keep coming.

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