- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Edgar Prado is the guy who comes to the party and smashes the cake. He is the one who snuffs the candles, the guy who rewrites the happy endings.

In two of the last three years, the former Maryland jockey has been America’s spoilsport.

Prado is riding Sun King in tomorrow’s 131st Kentucky Derby, and if the racing industry is ever going to get the Triple Crown winner it desperately wants, maybe it better let Prado win the Derby and the Preakness.

Prado will take care of the Belmont Stakes all by himself.

The Peruvian jockey, who made his career in the 1990s racing at Laurel and Pimlico, is among the elite riders in the country, with more than 5,000 wins. You may be particularly familiar with two of those.

Three years ago, riding a 70-1 long shot named Savara, Prado won the Belmont Stakes and stopped War Emblem from becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. And last year, riding yet another long shot (Birdstone at 36-1), Prado popped the Smarty Jones balloon by beating out the horse who had won America’s heart at the end of the 11/2-mile race.

The last time we saw Prado, he was being interviewed as the winning jockey who apologized for winning.

“I’m very sorry it had to be me,” Prado said in the winner’s circle at Belmont Park.

It was a strange scene, but Prado was looking at more than just one win. He was looking at the business where he made a very good living, and realized Smarty Jones was very good for business.

“Everyone wanted Smarty Jones to win,” Prado said before going out to ride in a race this week at Churchill Downs. “It had been so long since a horse won the Triple Crown, and everyone was looking forward to it. The year before, Funny Cide was the people’s horse, and Smarty Jones was the same. He brought so many people to the racetrack, and that is what we need in our industry, more people coming in and young people getting involved. He was the right horse for that. I was very happy to win, but I felt bad that I beat the horse that was going to win the Triple Crown.”

Prado made no such apologies in 2002, when Savara came out of nowhere and stopped War Emblem’s bid for the Triple Crown. Prado said the circumstances were not the same.

“War Emblem wasn’t the people’s horse, whether it was the trainer or the owner or whatever,” Prado said. “But he wasn’t even close to winning [the Belmont]. Last year when I won, Smarty Jones finished right behind me.”

Two Belmont Stakes victories against favored Triple Crown candidates are impressive entries on any jockey’s resume. Prado built that resume, for the most part, in Maryland, where he was the leading rider from 1991 to 1993 and again from 1996 to 1998 before moving on to the bigger leagues in New York.

At 37, the jockey has fond memories of his days racing at Laurel and Pimlico and is disappointed by the demise of racing in Maryland as the battle over slots at racetracks continues for another year.

“Those were the glory days in Maryland, when racing was great there,” he said. “It is sad to see what has happened to racing there now. Hopefully, everyone can get together and come up with a solution to bring racing back. It is hurting the breeders and everyone who has put so much into the business there.”

Prado would like to do business again in Maryland, at least for one particular Saturday in May.

“To a lot of people, the Kentucky Derby is the most important race and — don’t get me wrong — it is very exciting,” he said. “But to me, if I would win the Preakness, that would be more exciting because of the great memories I have of racing in Maryland, and it would help show my gratitude to the people that helped me out there and supported me when I was riding there for so many years. It would be very special. That was where my career started to rise, in Maryland.”

How Prado and his horse, Sun King at 15-1, do in the Derby tomorrow, though, may have a lot to do with that. Sun King is one of five horses trainer Nick Zito has in the race (including 5-2 favorite, Bellamy Road, George Steinbrenner’s horse), and at one time Sun King was considered perhaps one of Zito’s best chances to win the Derby this year. He had won the Tampa Bay Derby impressively and was the favorite going into the Blue Grass Stakes. But Sun King finished fourth in that race, which was won by another Derby horse, Bandini.

After the race, Zito said Prado did not follow his instructions for running the race.

“I told him to make a left turn and try to save some ground, as much as you can, and we’ll take our chances with him,” Zito told reporters. “He never saved an inch of ground. I guess he couldn’t get over. I don’t know. He was so wide.”

This week, though, Zito has tried to make light of the disagreement between him and Prado.

“Edgar and I have had such a great relationship. … I didn’t ask Edgar to gallop out at the end of that race, but I guess he wanted to. He told me he was taking his trainer’s license when he stops being a jockey. But that horse is a steady horse, and he should run extremely well.”

Prado simply said “nothing went right” in that race.

“We have turned the page, and hopefully we can see his best on Saturday,” he said. “It is a wide-open race, and I think his best is good enough to win.”

If Sun King wins, then he is two-thirds the way to the Triple Crown, with only the Preakness in doubt. Because when there is a Triple Crown on the line, Edgar Prado wins the Belmont Stakes.

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