08/28/2002 12:00AM

Prado in front as they near the wire


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Edgar Prado appears on the verge of winning his first Saratoga riding title, with a seven-win advantage over perennial champion Jerry Bailey heading into the final five days of the meet. But if the battle for leading rider should come down to closing day on Monday, Prado may wind up monitoring the race from the jockeys' quarters at Philadelphia Park, where he is expected to ride Harlan's Holiday in the $500,000 Pennsylvania Derby.

Trainer Todd Pletcher was withholding a final decision on Harlan's Holiday's status for the Pennsylvania Derby until after Harlan's Holiday works at Saratoga on Thursday. But if the 3-year-old does go to Pennsylvania, Prado and his agent, Bob Frieze, have already decided they will be along for the ride.

"Winning the riding title would be great, but it doesn't put any extra money in Edgar's pocket," said Frieze, who has handled Prado's engagements for the past three years. "And there's no way we're going to give up a mount like Harlan's Holiday just to win the title. The decision is really a no-brainer."

Prado surged past Bailey by winning four races on a card four times within a five-day span last week, a feat Frieze says rivals anything he has seen during his 32 years in the business.

"I've seen jockeys have streaks like that at some of the smaller tracks," said Frieze, who handled Bailey's engagements for 14 years before the pair parted ways during the winter of 1999. "But to accomplish what Edgar did at a meet like this, where the competition is the best in the world, was just incredible."

Obviously Prado would love to leave for Philadelphia Park next Monday with a big enough advantage over Bailey to have sewn up the title.

"Winning a meet like Saratoga means an awful lot to me," said Prado, who finished second here in 1999. "But even if I don't win I've had a great meet. We're riding for almost everybody, and the recognition I've received, especially if I can win the title, will make a big difference down the road."

Bailey, who has won seven of the last eight Saratoga riding championships, is in the midst of another outstanding meet, having already captured 10 graded stakes, including the Travers. On a pace to eclipse his personal single meet record for money earned, Bailey also put together an outstanding streak of his own early in the meet when he won 16 races over a five-day span - including two Grade 1 and two

Grade 2 stakes. He would also be a lot closer to Prado in the standings if he had not left town twice to fulfill stakes engagements, including the Arlington Million, which he won aboard Beat Hollow.

"With the exception of possibly not being lead rider, I'd have to say this was as successful a meet as could be," said Bailey. "But give Edgar all the credit in the world. He's riding great. Naturally it makes it tougher when you go out of town, but that's part of the business. My philosophy, at least over the last 10 years, has been to ride good horses over anything else so there really was no decision when it came to missing a day or two here to ride horses like Beat Hollow in the Million."

Bailey said Saratoga is the only meet at which he makes a concerted effort to be leading rider but admits catching Prado at this point may prove a difficult task.

"It's not an insurmountable lead but it's certainly a big hill to climb," Bailey said. "The streak has got to end sometime, but win or lose I'll be very proud of what I've accomplished here this summer."

Saint Verre works for Forego

Saint Verre worked five furlongs in 59.45 seconds on Wednesday in preparation to take on Orientate and Squirtle Squirt in Sunday's Grade 1 Forego Handicap. The work was easily the fastest of 26 at the distance on the clockers' tab.

The Forego will be Saint Verre's first start since finishing sixth and last after setting the early pace in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Handicap Aug. 3. He will also be turning back to six and a half furlongs.

"It was a good work," said trainer Allen Jerkens. "He went fast but this is going to be a tough race and nothing but his very best will get anything. And if he can't stand that type of work then he won't get anything."

Saint Verre has won 1 of 4 starts this year and will be a decided longshot in the Forego.

"It's going to be a small field and if he ever could get lucky, at least get a piece, it would be a big thing for the horse and his owner," said Jerkens, who trains Saint Verre for Joseph Allen.

Explicit, Multiple Choice, and Silky Sweep are the only other confirmed starters for the Forego.

Trainer Ian Jory worked Explicit, winner of Belmont's Grade 2 True North Breeders' Cup Handicap in his last start, five furlongs in a bullet 47.56 seconds over the Oklahoma turf course on Wednesday.

One horse not likely to run in the Forego is Hook and Ladder, who finished third after contesting the pace in an allowance race on Aug. 18.

"I'm probably going to pass the Forego," trainer John Kimmel said on Wednesday. "He came out of his last race in good order and is training well, but there are just so many sprint opportunities during the fall, I see no reason to throw him in there off a short turnaround."

Mike's Wildcat out for year

Mike's Wildcat, who finished sixth as the favorite in the Grade 2 Schuylerville Stakes here on opening day, will not run again this year, trainer John Ward said.

Ward said Mike's Wildcat suffered from a lung infection coming out of the Schuylerville, then after that cleared up she developed a second lung infection. Also, Ward said Mike's Wildcat will undergo surgery to remove a knee chip, something that was there since she was a yearling.

"She's going to have time to get over all of it," Ward said. "She'll be back in light training in 60 days, which puts us on the scene for the tail end of the winter racing. We can still point to the [Kentucky] Oaks. We don't want to miss that."

Ward and owner John Oxley purchased Mike's Wildcat following her eight-length victory in the Astoria Stakes at Belmont in June. A daughter of Forest Wildcat, Mike's Wildcat went 2 for 4 this year.

On Tuesday, Ward's Fountain of Youth winner Booklet worked a half-mile in 52.07 seconds, his first move since the Preakness. Ward has no plans yet for Booklet.

Abreeze to Kentucky Cup Classic

Abreeze, the hard-luck runner-up of the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap, worked four furlongs in 48.05 seconds over Saratoga's main track on Wednesday. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Abreeze would make his next start in the $400,000 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park on Sept. 14.

"Speed has always dominated at Turfway so we thought it would be a good spot to try," McLaughlin said. "We don't want to hook all the heavy heads in the Woodward."

Abreeze set the pace in the Saratoga Cup, but was hindered by a loose horse, Gander, who had thrown his rider at the start.

- additional reporting by David Grening