After years of winning seemingly every race he rode in Maryland, jockey Edgar Prado took his tack to New York in 1999 and became a star, putting together a career that one day will land him in the National Racing Hall of Fame. Yet if his career ended today, with more than 5,000 victories to his name, the two he might be remembered for most are his stunning upsets in the Belmont Stakes.
In 2002, Prado, a native of Peru who turns 37 on June 12, came from off the pace aboard a 70-1 long shot named Sarava and finished off any pretensions War Emblem had for winning the Triple Crown after victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Saturday, with Smarty Jones close to becoming the only horse besides Seattle Slew to remain undefeated through the Triple Crown, Prado arrived home first again, steering Birdstone through a protracted drive to victory by a length in the Belmont.
At 36-1, Birdstone was a stunning victor over a horse the entire racing world had fallen in love with. For jockeys, winning a Triple Crown race before more than 100,000 people, when they usually perform in front of a few thousand, is a career highlight to cherish for a lifetime.
Prado, however, came away deeply conflicted about defeating Smarty Jones, knowing how important his success might be to the struggling sport of racing.
"I apologize to everybody," Prado said immediately after taking the dais for the post-race news conference. "I feel happy and sad at the same time. You know, very sad because I spoiled the Triple Crown one more time. This sport needs a hero, and I thought that would be great for us, but I have to go there to try to do the best I can to win a race, and that's what I did."
Asked what was going through his mind as Birdstone overhauled Smarty Jones, Prado said, "Like I said before, I was happy and sad at the same time. I cannot let my sadness take over and stop riding. I just continue to ride."
Bear Fan Makes Mark
The prospect of a fast time in the Belmont Stakes was enhanced dramatically early on the race card when the 5-year-old mare Bear Fan broke the track record for 61/2 furlongs in the Grade II $150,000 Vagrancy Handicap.
Bear Fan, who won the Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park in February, ran right to the lead and crushed the field by nine lengths in a time of 1 minute 14.46 seconds.
"She wanted to run as soon as the gate opened, and she's not the type of horse you can hold back," said jockey John Velazquez. "I didn't realize she was going that fast because it felt like she was walking. Then, when I tapped her in the stretch, she just took off."
One race later, Speightstown, who at age 6 has developed into one of the best sprinters in the country, ran past Cat Genius after a torrid opening quarter-mile and won the Grade II $200,000 True North Breeders' Cup Handicap, completing six furlongs in 1:08.04. While not official, Speightstown's time after five furlongs -- 55.35 seconds -- would have broken the track record set by Kelly Kip in 1996.
Bailey Shows Talent
Jerry Bailey may not have had the winning mount in the Belmont, but he showed why he is widely considered the finest jockey in the world with his ride aboard Intercontinental in the Grade II $250,000 Just A Game Breeders' Cup Handicap.
In the mile turf race for fillies and mares, Bailey found himself checked behind horses along the rail as Intercontinental acted fractiously, throwing her head up and down. The Hall of Fame jockey settled her down, and as the field reached the far turn, he eased Intercontinental off the rail.
"Intercontinental is all bottled up," said track announcer Tom Durkin.
In the stretch, Intercontinental ran between two horses and behind three until suddenly Bailey found a tiny seam.
"And into the breech -- Intercontinental!" Durkin cried.
The filly won the race by 11/4 lengths.
"In those kinds of races you just have to be patient and hope there is a hole you can get to in time," Bailey said. "I knew I would have enough horse if I could just find the seam."
Around the Tracks
Laurel Park-based Mr. O'Brien, a 5-year-old gelding trained by Robin Graham, finished third under jockey Ramon Dominguez in the Grade I $400,000 Manhattan Handicap. The race was won by Meteor Storm, who completed the 103rd running of the 11/4-mile turf in 1:59.34. . . .
Abbondanza, another horse based at Laurel, finished third in the Grade II $200,000 Riva Ridge Breeders' Cup for trainer Tim Tullock behind winner Fire Slam. . . .
Jane's Luck held off Water Cannon to win the $75,000 Deputed Testamony stakes at Pimlico. With Jozbin Santana aboard, Jane's Luck ran the 81/2 furlongs in 1:46.73 and led wire to wire.