07/06/2001 12:00AM

Prado heating up as Saratoga nears

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Edgar Prado's timing couldn't be better. With the Saratoga meet less than three weeks away and with 12 days left in the Belmont spring-summer meet, Prado has gone on a tear.

In the last eight racing days, Prado has ridden 13 winners from 52 mounts to give him 49 victories for the meet. That puts him just three behind John Velazquez for leading rider. Prado, who turned 34 last month, said winning the Belmont title would be very meaningful.

"Oh, absolutely, that's what it's all about," Prado said after riding Virtueless Woman to victory in Friday's second race. "Being leading rider at Belmont with all the top riders here means a lot; it's a big achievement in your career. I'm working hard to achieve that. If I can do it, I'm going to give it my best to get there."

Prado is winning races despite not having a big horse or riding first-call for a top outfit. He has gotten himself firmly entrenched with James Bond, winning on nine of 26 mounts for Bond, the second-leading trainer at the meet.

"You can only be as good as the horses you're on," Prado said. "Bond's been winning a lot of races lately and that definitely helps a lot. But I've been riding for a lot of different trainers."

Prado has ridden multiple winners in five of the last six cards, dating back to June 29, but he's not reflecting on his accomplishments.

"Whatever happened yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is what counts," Prado said.

A P Valentine breezes

A P Valentine, the runner-up to Point Given in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, worked five furlongs in 1:06.09 Friday morning over Saratoga's training track. It was his first breeze back since the Triple Crown series ended.

Trainer Nick Zito is pointing

A P Valentine to the Grade 1 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on Aug. 4.

"The track is dead; it's real heavy," Zito said from Saratoga. "That's what they go in up here at this time of year. I told the exercise girl to go in [1:07] and she went in 1:06 and change."

Zito said he was extremely impressed with how A P Valentine handled his Triple Crown grind, which included an unorthodox prep season and a grueling three races in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

"The word 'athlete' fits that horse perfect," said Zito, who noted that his son Alex has nicknamed A P Valentine Deion Sanders. "The second half of the year is coming. Hopefully, he'll get his due."

Proud Man doubtful for Lexington

Proud Man, who has won four Grade 3 stakes, will most likely skip next Saturday's $150,000 Lexington Stakes, racing manager Jimmy Iselin said.

The 3-year-old Proud Man suffered a severe cut in his right hind leg while winning the Hill Prince Stakes on June 16. While the cut is healing nicely, according to Iselin, he figures it's best to give the colt more time and point toward the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Handicap on Aug. 6 at Saratoga.

"My instinct is we got the whole summer. He has to miss one dance," Iselin said. "Our ultimate goal is what they run at Belmont at the end of October."

Iselin, of course, was referring to the World Thoroughbred Championships on Oct. 27. Iselin said he hopes to run Proud Man in either the $1 million Breeders' Cup Mile or the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf.

Horse dies in training accident

Romantic Novel, a 4-year-old daughter of Notebook, had to be euthanized Friday after breaking her back in a freak training accident that morning on the training track.

According to trainer Leah Gyarmati, a horse trained by Linda Rice got loose and began running the wrong way while on the outside rail. That horse, a 2-year-old, ran into Romantic Novel, who was being ponied. Romantic Novel was euthanized on the track.

Gyarmati had claimed Romantic Novel last December for $25,000. In eight starts this year, Romantic Novel had four seconds and a third and earned $31,240. She most recently ran on July 1, finishing sixth in a claiming race.

Rice said she was still evaluating whether her 2-year-old had broken his shoulder or was just sore.