08/23/2006 11:00PM

One ride enough to impress Prado

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Edgar Prado knows firsthand what he and his fellow riders are up against when they try to tackle Bernardini in Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes.

Prado, who will ride Minister's Bid in the Travers, was aboard for Bernardini's first win, which came in the first race of the day on March 4 at Gulfstream Park. After putting away two early pace challengers, Bernardini romped to a 7 3/4-length victory over High Finance in that one-mile race. Bernardini ran one mile in 1:35.57 while being taken in hand late by Prado.

"The way he did it that day was spectacular, it was special," Prado recalled Thursday morning on the Saratoga backstretch. "I only let him run that day from the five-sixteenths pole to the wire. I don't think I ever hit him. He showed me what kind of horse he is when I rode him that day."

That race proved to be a springboard for Bernardini, who has since added victories in the Withers, Preakness, and Jim Dandy to his resume and will be a prohibitive favorite to win the 137th Travers for trainer Tom Albertrani and Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable.

"Tommy had a lot of expectations for the horse, and I guess he was right," Prado said. "He had a lot of confidence in the horse. He took his time, he picked out the right spots, and he showed what he can do now. Unfortunately, I'm not on him. That's the only bad thing about him."

Prado was scheduled to be on Bernardini in an allowance race at Aqueduct in late April. But Albertrani altered course and skipped the allowance to run in the Grade 3 Withers the next day. Prado had a call on Luxembourg in the Withers and Javier Castellano picked up the mount and won the race by 3 3/4 lengths. Castellano has been Bernardini's rider ever since.

By the time Prado would see Bernardini again, he had ridden Barbaro to victory in the Kentucky Derby. Both Bernardini and Barbaro were in the starting gate in the Preakness, but Prado pulled up Barbaro a furlong into the race with a catastrophic hind leg injury as Bernardini went on to a 5 1/4-length score.

While Barbaro put up a courageous fight for his life in an equine hospital in Pennsylvania, Bernardini continued his pursuit of a 3-year-old championship with a dominating nine-length win in the Jim Dandy. In that race, Prado was aboard Minister's Bid, who was the closest pursuer to Bernardini in the early stages of the race before Bernardini began to pull away turning for home.

"He was galloping along with a long, beautiful stride and I was following, and I was getting worse and worse as the race was going on," Prado said. "My horse ran hard, he tried. I think this time somebody is hopefully going to do the dirty job for me - put pressure on him - because he's the horse to beat. The only horse that I think can run with him is Bluegrass Cat.''

It is times like this when Prado really misses Barbaro, who had won all of his starts before the Preakness. Prado said he keeps in contact frequently with Michael Matz, the trainer of Barbaro, and with the colt's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson. Prado said when the Saratoga meet ends he plans to take another trip to the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., to visit Barbaro.

"I miss him overall because he was a special horse who ran good races," Prado said. "Knowing that his life is in jeopardy, I'm always thinking of him and hope that he continues on the road to recovery."