-- When it comes to 3-year-olds, jockey Edgar Prado appears to put himself in the right place at the right time. Last month, he ruined Smarty Jones's bid to win the Triple Crown with his spoiling ride on Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes. Saturday afternoon, in a lesser but still rich event, Prado turned in another expert ride aboard Kitten's Joy to win the $500,000 Virginia Derby before a crowd of 7,826 at Colonial Downs.
For the 37-year-old Peruvian-born jockey, it was his third straight Virginia Derby victory and far more difficult than his wins in the race aboard Silver Tree last year and Orchard Park in 2002.
"I got lucky," Prado said in the winner's circle after Kitten's Joy had outkicked favorite Artie Schiller in the stretch to win the 11/4-mile turf race by 23/4 lengths.
The Virginia Derby matched what are likely the three best 3-year-old turf horses in the country -- Kitten's Joy, Artie Schiller and Prince Arch -- and highlighted the first million-dollar day in Virginia racing history.
Kitten's Joy was taken back by Prado early in the race as undefeated Jane's Luck, making his first start on turf, sped off to an eight-length lead and set fast fractions.
On the backside of Colonial Downs's Secretariat turf course, Prado had to work hard to maintain position on the rail and avoid getting boxed in by other horses. As the field began to move toward a tiring Jane's Luck near the far turn, Artie Schiller, ridden by Richard Migliore, made his move on the outside. Seeing that, Prado angled Kitten's Joy off the rail and outside Artie Schiller.
The two colts rapidly pulled away from the six other runners in the field with Artie Schiller, the top 3-year-old turf horse in New York, momentarily looking like a winner before Kitten's Joy fought back and passed him to win in a fast final time of 2 minutes 1.22 seconds.
"I was trying to keep an eye on [Artie Schiller] and not move too early," Prado said. "I was hoping I had a nice kick in the end and hoped [third-place Prince Arch] wouldn't come up. He never came."
Prado had never ridden Kitten's Joy, who won for the sixth time in nine starts and earned $300,000 for owner Kenneth Ramsey. Jerry Bailey had been aboard Kitten's Joy his past four starts but opted to ride in the Summit of Speed race card today at Calder Race Course in South Florida.
"Edgar Prado became available, and he turned the hat track today," Ramsey said. "He rode him perfect."
Artie Schiller came into the Virginia Derby with a tremendous reputation in New York, having won the Grade III Hill Prince Stakes the day after the Belmont Stakes in powerful fashion. His opening odds for the Virginia Derby flashed on the tote board at 1-2, and he went off as the 6-5 favorite.
Migliore said the oppressive heat and humidity may have affected his horse, and he refused to concede Kitten's Joy was better.
"I'm not convinced he's a better horse," Migliore said. "My horse was a little quiet in the paddock. It's the hottest day I've ridden this year."
Two other important turf races were on the card: Film Maker, also ridden by Prado, scored a three-length victory as the favorite in the Grade II $200,000 All Along Breeders' Cup for fillies and mares.
The 4-year-old daughter of top turf sire Dynaformer won the 11/8-mile grass race in 1:50.08. Trainer Graham Motion called Film Maker the best filly he has ever trained.
In the inaugural $200,000 Virginia Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, jockey Ryan Fogelsonger expertly controlled the pace with filly Art Fan and held off favored Galloping Gal in the stretch to win by 13/4 lengths. Trained by Hamilton Smith, Art Fan ran the 11/8-mile race in 1:50.41.