Jockey Edgar Prado rode a professional race in the Belmont Stakes.

Jockey Edgar Prado rode a professional race in the Belmont Stakes.

Dave Harmon

Belmont Winning Jockey: Professional Grade

Published in the June 15 issue of The Blood-Horse
It was a professional ride from a professional rider. After classic setbacks--a disappointing seventh aboard Kentucky Derby (gr. I) favorite Harlan's Holiday, and fourth aboard him again in the Preakness (gr. I)--Edgar Prado finally landed the big one aboard Sarava. While he's always been on the stage, this is Prado's first moment under the heat of the spotlight.

The soft-spoken Prado has worked hard and harder to become a top New York jock since switching circuits in 2000. While he thought his first Triple Crown victory would have come in May, the workman-like rider got the brass ring while denying War Emblem's bid for the Triple Crown.

"I wanted to see a Triple Crown winner," Prado said. "It would have been good for the business, but we've got a job to do--and that is beat each other. That is what we are paid for. We're professionals.

"I thought that in this kind of race, anything could happen," said the native of Lima, Peru. "It worked out beautifully. I was biding my time. When War Emblem moved, I wanted to keep him close." Prado did, getting ideal position down the backstretch. After he found the lead on the turn for home, Prado and Sarava got down to business. "He was fighting real hard every time the other horse (Medaglia d'Oro) came near me," Prado said. "He was fighting back--the other horse was never going by."

Make no mistake, Prado knows how to win races; he's won more than 4,400 since coming to the U.S. in 1986. The former leading jockey in Peru, Prado first landed in Florida as a contract rider for trainer Manuel Azpurua. It didn't take him long to make his way to Maryland, long a proving ground for young riders. He broke through in 1991, becoming the leading rider in Maryland and steering Leariva to a 44-1 upset win in the Budweiser International (gr. IT). He would lead the Maryland colony in wins the next two years, and in three successive years, 1997-99, he led the nation by wins with 536, 470, and 402 victories.

Prado left for the bright lights of New York, and he's made it to the top by taking one win at a time. "I thought I'd break-in in New York, but you need opportunity and you need ammunition," he said.

That ammunition came from Hall of Fame trainer Scotty Schulhofer, who replaced Jose Santos with Prado aboard Lemon Drop Kid during his 4-year-old campaign in 2000. They teamed for major wins at Belmont and Saratoga in the Brooklyn, Suburban (both gr. II), and Whitney Handicaps and the Woodward Stakes (both gr. I).

In the last year, both Bobby Frankel and Shug McGaughey have used Prado to win grade I stakes.

The 35-year-old Prado is a consistent top-five rider, and captured the 2000 Belmont fall meet title with 38 wins. He was runner-up to John Velazquez in last year's Belmont spring/summer meet and at Aqueduct's fall main track meet.

He first teamed with Kenny McPeek two years ago in South Florida. "He used me on a horse and I won," Prado said. "Then he put me on Harlan's Holiday and I won, and I won a couple of times. We've had a really good winning percentage. We've been doing real well together."

An example of his appetite for success: despite the thrill of scoring the largest win of his career, Prado begged off television interviews to ride in the race following the Belmont.

"A half-hour ago was history. You still have to go out there and win the next day," Prado said. However, he was able to put the major milestone in perspective. "It's better to win a Triple Crown race in front of all these people and all the people watching across the country."

Prado's wife Lilliana and their three children were not on hand at Belmont, but rather at their home in Florida. Prado dedicated his victory to his oldest son, Edgar Jr.

"He was so disappointed after the Derby," Prado said. "He knew that I'd been working hard to get to this level and he was sad. He was still upset again when I didn't win the Preakness." Edgar Jr. will celebrate his 16th birthday later this month as the son of a classic winner.