Barbaro's jockey gearing up for Preakness

Updated: May 16, 2006, 2:54 PM ET
By Richard Rosenblatt | Associated Press

NEW YORK - Edgar Prado has been riding too long to get caught up in winning one race -- even if the race happened to be the Kentucky Derby.

"It definitely puts you in an elite group of riders," Prado said, "but I still felt the same. ... I had to come back and ride Sunday."

Prado returned to Belmont Park the morning after winning the Derby aboard undefeated Barbaro. He was cheered by a small group of fans, then went out and rode seven races, winning three.

No rest for the weary.

"What is done, is done," Prado said before the races one day last week at Belmont. "You have to continue to do your job."

While not missing a day of riding since his first Derby win, Prado is gearing up for his next big challenge: the $1 million Preakness on Saturday. A victory would send Barbaro to the Belmont Stakes with a chance to become racing's first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.

Prado loves the idea.

"It would help everyone in racing because we need a hero," Prado said. "And Barbaro would be the hero. I'm just a the jockey."

Edgar Prado
Age: 38 (born June 12, 1967).
Height: 5-foot-4.
Weight: 113 pounds.
Hometown: Lima, Peru.
Residence: Hollywood, Fla.
Family: Liliana (wife); Edgar Jr., Luis (sons); Patricia (daughter).
Triple Crown record: Derby, 1-for-7; Preakness, 0-for-8; Belmont, 2-for-6.
Top wins: Barbaro (2006 Kentucky Derby); Birdstone (2004 Belmont Stakes, Travers); Sarava (2002 Belmont Stakes); Folklore (2005 Breeder's Cup Juvenile Fillies); Silver Train (2005 Breeders' Cup Sprint); Saint Liam (2005 Woodward); Peace Rules (2003 Blue Grass, Haskell Invitational); Bird Town (2003 Kentucky Oaks); Harlan's Holiday (2002 Florida Derby, Blue Grass).
Accomplishments: Spoiled Triple Crown bids of War Emblem in 2002 and Smarty Jones in 2004, winning Belmont with Sarava in '02 and then Birdstone in '04. ... Led nation's riders in wins from 1997-99, with 536 in '97, 470 in '98 and 402 in '99.
Purse money earned (career): $173,361,041 through May 8.
Winners (career): 5,606 through May 8.
How he got started: Father was an assistant trainer in Peru; brothers Jorge and Anibal were jockeys.
First winner: Tatin, 1983 (in Peru).

The 38-year-old Prado has been among the nation's top riders for years, though it's hard to tell by the way he acts. He rarely shows his feelings, his face usually expressionless whether he wins or loses. Some say he even looks angry. Prado calls it "concentration." He's also humble, preferring to credit the owners, trainers and especially the horses.

"I'm not a very emotional person," he said. "I like to keep it nice and quiet. That's the way I've always been."

Prado is a calculated customer on the track, though, fighting for every inch in every race no matter the quality of horse he's riding. Gary Stevens, the recently retired Hall of Fame rider, says Prado reminds him of actor Clint Eastwood.

"I'm gonna shoot you, this is the way it is and then I'm gonna move on to the next guy trying to kill me," Stevens said. "He's got that same look in his eyes that Eastwood did in all those Westerns."

After winning the Derby by 6 1/2 lengths -- the fifth largest margin in 132 years -- Prado let go for a rare moment. As he returned to the winner's circle, he flashed a huge smile and pointed to the horse with both hands, encouraging the crowd at Churchill Downs to turn up the volume.

Not for him, of course.

"I was cheering for Barbaro. I was only a passenger," Prado said. "I was fortunate to be on the right horse at the right moment. I'm not going to pump my chest. It's good to hear people say nice things, but it's up to them to say it."

With the recent retirements of Stevens and fellow Hall of Famers Jerry Bailey and Pat Day, Prado moves to the forefront of top jockeys. He's always been in the big races, but not always on the best horses. That is changing.

During the Derby preps, Prado rode several top contenders besides Barbaro, including First Samurai, Strong Contender and Keyed Entry.

"Prado was Bailey this year, getting to choose between four horses," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "That says a lot about his talent."

Adds trainer John Ward: "All the tea leaves are coming together for him. He's become the go-to rider."

Michael Matz, who trains Barbaro, calls Prado a "terrific rider," but that's about it. A falling out two years ago could be the reason. After Prado chose another horse over Matz's Kicken Kris in the Arlington Million, the trainer did not use Prado on any of his horses for nearly a year.

Matz has been cordial when discussing Prado, but asked last week if he trusts Prado, he said: "If I have to tell him how to ride the horse, then maybe I need a new rider."

Prado says the matter was "blown out of proportion." He insists there isn't much to say before a race, anyway.

"We look at each other, and that's about it," Prado said. "Then I go ride the horse."

Prado won the Derby on his seventh try, and it came about four months after the death of his mother, Cenaida. Although she did not attend the races often, Prado twice brought her to the Derby hoping to win.

After he came through May 6, he dedicated the race to her, adding that when he crossed the finish line "the first person that came to mind was my mother. That was emotional."

Prado, married and the father of three children, is the second youngest of 12 kids. His father was an assistant trainer in Peru. Prado arrived in Miami in 1986, then moved to Pimlico in Maryland, where he won 14 riding titles in the 1990s and was the nation's leading rider in victories from 1997-99.

He moved to New York and began to make his mark. He's won riding titles at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. His first two wins in Triple Crown races came in the Belmont -- aboard Sarava in 2002 and Birdstone in 2004. Both times, Prado spoiled Triple Crown bids -- first by War Emblem, then by Smarty Jones.

His emotions got to him after the win over Smarty Jones. Despite the biggest victory of his career, Prado apologized for spoiling Smarty's Triple try, saying he was only doing his job.

Last October, Prado ended an 0-for-31 record in the Breeders' Cup, winning the BC Juvenile Fillies with Folklore and the BC Sprint with Silver Train.

With more than 5,600 victories during his career, Prado would like to add a first Preakness win to his resume.

He has a great chance. Barbaro should be the heavy favorite to make it seven in row when he takes on a small field, including Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint. There aren't many picking against Barbaro.

"I hope they're right," Prado said.

Preakness television coverage begins Saturday, May 20 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC Sports.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press