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Barbaro's jockey gearing up for Preakness

5/16/2006

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."

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.