04/30/2002 11:00PM

Prado has been where D'Amico is now

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There is no questioning the fact that Edgar Prado has added his name to the list of the nation's premier riders over the past couple of seasons. But even Prado himself admits the only day a jockey can truly say he has made the top is after he wins the Kentucky Derby.

Prado has ridden in two previous Derbies, finishing 17th aboard Commendable in 2000 and fourth last year with Thunder Blitz. But his best chance to win a Derby comes Saturday, when he rides the likely favorite, Harlan's Holiday, for trainer Ken McPeek.

"I'm really looking forward to Saturday," Prado said. "Winning a race with so much history and being able to join such a small and elite circle of jockeys to have won the Derby would put me in the spotlight for years to come and really be a boost to my career. And while I'd be excited to participate in any Derby, naturally it's always better to be riding the favorite."

Prado first gained prominence when he led the nation in victory for three consecutive years, from 1997 through 1999, while riding regularly on the Maryland circuit. But even though he won more than 1,400 races during that span, it wasn't until he moved his tack to New York in 2000 that he began earning the respect of the national media. He won 259 races last season, his purse earning of $14,133,395 putting him fourth in North America.

"There's really not much difference riding in Maryland than in New York, other than the fact the horses and money are better," said Prado, 34, a native of Lima, Peru. "And riding better-quality horses is what takes you to another level."

Prado replaced regular rider Tony D'Amico before Harlan's Holiday's victory in the Florida Derby and says he knows all about what it is like to be taken off a good horse before a big race.

"I was in Tony's position many times earlier in my career," said Prado. "It hurt every time a trainer took me off a horse for a bigger-name rider and it hurts me now to do it to someone else. But I know it's part of the business, and if it wasn't me it would have been someone else."

As for Saturday, Prado is confident in Harlan's Holiday and ready to seize the moment.

"Yesterday is history, and tomorrow is a mystery, so we've got to achieve as much as we can today."

Looking ahead

Trainers of horses who did not get into the Kentucky Derby because of lack of graded-stakes earnings were already making plans to run in the next leg of the Triple Crown, the May 18 Preakness Stakes.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer incurred another Derby downer when his colt U S S Tinosa was the 22nd horse on the graded-stakes earning list. Only 20 horses were permitted to enter the Derby.

In previous years, Hollendorfer watched Event of the Year and Globalize suffer injuries at Churchill while leading up to the Derby.

"This is one of the years that everyone is deciding to run," Hollendorfer said with resignation.

U S S Tinosa arrived at Churchill Downs on Tuesday at a time when Hollendorfer had no indication whether the colt would gain a spot in the field.

"If you're going to get in, you have to be here," Hollendorfer said.

He said U S S Tinosa will be based at Churchill Downs in advance of the Preakness and will have one workout before traveling. Hollendorfer has not ruled out a start in the Hawthorne Derby on turf in Chicago on May 11.

"When you have to change your plans you have to adjust," Hollendorfer said. "I'll have to lengthen his works a little bit."

Meanwhile, trainer Nick Zito said he would point both Crimson Hero and Straight Gin to the Preakness, but is using that race as a stepping-stone to the Belmont Stakes on June 8. Zito has never won a Belmont, but has finished second in it five times.

"I'd like to try and win one," Zito said. "You're not going to win the Belmont by running in any other race."

Mayakovsky, whose connections elected not to run in the Derby, are considering the Preakness as well, but may opt for shorter races.

West keeps low profile

Gary West, owner of Wood Memorial winner and Kentucky Derby contender Buddha, is making a conscious effort to maintain a low profile during Derby week.

It is in sharp contrast to a year ago, when West was one of the more visible owners on the Churchill backstretch. West, along with his wife, Mary, owned Dollar Bill and was very accommodating to the media. For those not in Kentucky, West created a website for Dollar Bill fans, posting daily updates and even a column written from the horse's point of view.

"We did not do it for any commercial reasons. Maybe the racing gods misunderstood what we were doing," said West, who was wearing a black baseball cap with his pink and black silks and the name Buddha on it. "So, yes we're laying low. A hat is as big as it's going to get this year."

Dollar Bill had a brutal trip in the Derby and finished 15th in the field of 17. Dollar Bill encountered some more trouble in the Preakness, finishing fourth, and then finished a well-beaten third in the Belmont Stakes. He became known as the hard-luck horse of the Triple Crown.

West was asked if last year's Derby experience made him thirsty to come back.

"Fifteen minutes after the race, no," he said. "But, after a couple of cocktails, and some reflection, yeah. This is a great race."

West said he and racing manager Benny Glass, "go to the sales every year to have a horse to run in this race. If this isn't what your ultimate goal is, you must be from Mars or something. This is it in horse racing."

West said he does not fear the same bad luck that befell Dollar Bill last year.

"He was a bad-luck horse that year and sometimes that happens," West said. "I believe luck ultimately evens out and we've had nothing but good luck with this horse."

Buddha, trained by James Bond, is 3 for 3 this year. He is trying to become the first horse since 1918 to win the Derby having made just four previous starts.

Volunteer jogger

Trainer Paco Gonzalez found a Hall of Fame volunteer to jog Came Home on Wednesday.

Jockey Chris McCarron, who has ridden Came Home throughout his career, visited the barn and asked Gonzalez if he could help. The light exercise was Came Home's first trip to the track following a workout with McCarron aboard on Monday.

"I usually jog the first day after a break, but Chris was here," Gonzalez said. "He said, 'I'll jog him.' "

McCarron is one of three people to exercise Came Home in the last week. Initially, Paco's brother, Sal, was galloping Came Home on a daily basis. He told his brother last weekend that Came Home was becoming more difficult to handle. At that point, Gonzalez began using exercise rider Fernando Mera, an employee of trainer Neil Howard. Came Home is residing in Howard's barn during his preparation for the Kentucky Derby.

On Wednesday, Came Home did not give McCarron any trouble, according to Paco Gonzalez. "We went to the paddock and he was fine," he said.

More colorful Oaks, Derby

The runners in this year's Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby will use the color-coded saddle towels that have become standard in the industry since the spread of simulcast wagering.

Churchill Downs has used the color-coded saddle towels since the fall of 1994, but this is the first time they will be used in the Oaks and Derby.

The colors from numbers 1 to 14 - red for number 1, white for number 2, etc. - are familiar to fans at tracks and simulcast centers throughout the country. In the Derby, however, there are 20 separate betting interests, so Churchill Downs had to come up with new colors for numbers 15 to 20.

The new colors are khaki (15), copen blue (16), navy (17), forest green (18), denim (19), and fuchsia (20).

- additional reporting by David Grening, Marty McGee, Jay Privman, and Mike Welsch