01/06/2011 8:19PM

2010 Eclipse Awards: Paddy O'Prado

Four Footed Fotos

Having won or placed in Grade 1 stakes on turf, dirt, and synthetic surfaces, it’s fair to say that Paddy O’Prado was among the most versatile 3-year-olds of 2010.

The gray colt by El Prado, bred by Winchell Thoroughbreds, LLC, was purchased as a yearling for $105,000 at the Keeneland September sale by Donegal Racing, a partnership formed by prominent Des Moines attorney Jerry Crawford, whose roots go back to County Donegal, Ireland.

A bit of a goof-off in three starts as a juvenile, Paddy O’Prado began to mature when trainer Dale Romans brought him down to Florida for the winter.

“As a 2-year-old, he was gawking around on the track, even during his races,” Crawford recalled. “I flew down to have a look at him a couple of days before the Palm Beach Stakes . . . he had changed; he was all business on the track.”

A maiden facing winners in the Palm Beach, Paddy O’Prado encountered faster fractions than anything he had seen at 2, yet he was right with the leaders from the outset and pulled away in the stretch.

“He has never had a clean trip in any of his races, but once he has gotten clear, he’s always come running at the end,” Romans said afterward. “I think he’s as talented as any 3-year-old I’ve got in the barn.”

The rapidly improving Paddy O’Prado raced exclusively in Grade 1 and Grade 2 races from that point on, beginning with a runner-up finish in the Blue Grass over Keeneland’s Polytrack that emboldened his connections to enter the Kentucky Derby.

Racing over a sea of slop at Churchill Downs, Paddy O’Prado made a huge run from a dozen lengths behind to reach contention in upper stretch, loomed boldly a furlong from the wire, and was nipped for second in the final strides.

Following a wide trip in the Preakness, Paddy O’Prado switched back to the turf and really came into his own at Colonial Downs, winning the Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Derby.

“El Prado’s progeny always get better as they get older,” Crawford explained after the Turf Cup. “I expect his best racing to actually come as a 4-year-old, but we’re going to see him continue to do better through the course of the year, and we’re going to start mapping a calendar that ends with the Breeders’ Cup and has a big intermediate date of the Secretariat.”

By midsummer, Paddy O’Prado was widely recognized as the top 3-year-old grass horse in the land, and he lived up to that billing by winning the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park while running over a non-firm course for the first time.

“I never thought I’d see a horse as good as Kitten’s Joy,” said Romans, who developed that one to win the Secretariat en route to an Eclipse Award as grass champion of 2004, “but I’m starting to think this one might be.”

In the fall, Paddy O’Prado made his first start against older horses in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. Running over a rain-soaked turf course, he finished a bang-up second to Eclipse Award finalist Winchester.

After weighing all the options in a choice between the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf and the BC Classic for his final start of the season, it was ultimately decided to shoot for the latter.

“My personal belief is his chances of hitting the board were about the same in either race,” Crawford explained. “We’re not going to short-change Paddy O’Prado by playing it safe; we’re going to swing for the fences.”

Against the best dirt horses in the world, Paddy O’Prado responded with a fifth-place finish and earned the fastest Beyer Speed Figure (103) of his career.

PAST PERFORMANCES: Paddy O'Prado's 2010 season PPs (PDF)

KEY RACE REPLAY: Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park >>