05/15/2002 11:00PM

Prado hopes to exploit home-court edge

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BALTIMORE - With 14 Pimlico riding titles on his resume, Edgar Prado has proven he knows every inch of this main track. The connections of Harlan's Holiday hope Prado's knowledge of Old Hilltop can help their beaten Kentucky Derby favorite rebound in Saturday's 127th Preakness Stakes.

"Is it an edge? I'm not sure it is or it isn't," trainer Ken McPeek said of having Prado aboard Harlan's Holiday. "If you win a race like this by an inch, you take any edge you can get. It was something we discussed when we first put him on the horse. We felt he'd come in handy here."

Prado, 35, replaced Tony D'Amico aboard Harlan's Holiday after the Fountain of Youth. Prado promptly guided Harlan's Holiday to victories in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass, wins that helped make Harlan's Holiday the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

Prado will be riding in the Preakness for the first time since he left the Maryland circuit for New York in the summer of 1999.

From 1990 to 1999, Prado won the riding title in 14 of the 17 Pimlico meets. Prado, a native of Lima, Peru, concurs with the popular theory that Pimlico is a speed-favoring track with sharp turns, and saving ground is paramount.

"You have to get a good position down the backside and not stay too wide," Prado said. "It's a little uphill in the stretch, and you have to save a little bit for the end."

Prado said the inability to save ground hurt his chances in 1998 when Hot Wells, a 25-1 shot, finished fourth behind Real Quiet.

"I think he could have run better than he showed," Prado said. "He got left at the gate and acted like he was trying to get out most of the way and I couldn't save any ground, and he still ran good. He could have run a lot better."

Although Harlan's Holiday raced well off the pace while finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby, both Prado and McPeek agree the horse has the tactical speed to be much closer on Saturday.

"The horse has got tactical speed, we just didn't take advantage of it," McPeek said. "I don't know if you call it Edgar's fault or mine, not being explicit about the instructions, but we didn't give our horse much of a chance."

McPeek said he expects Prado to put Harlan's Holiday in the race earlier on Saturday, especially if the much talked about hot pace does not develop.

"I think they're all trying to figure out how to slow their horses down," McPeek said. "Frankel's horse," McPeek said, referring to Medaglia d'Oro, "could be in front and we're going to be following him into that turn."

Of the Derby, Prado said: "He was doing real well for the Derby; the speed didn't go the way we thought it was going to. It wasn't his race that day. I'm hoping he bounces back."

The Preakness has been won by many horses who flopped as the Derby favorite. Point Given, Timber Country, Prairie Bayou, Hansel, and Snow Chief all bounced back to wear the black-eyed susans after losing the Derby as the favorite.

Prado has ridden mostly longshots in the Preakness, with his shortest-priced mount being Rockamundo, who finished seventh in 1993. Prado said a victory in Pimlico's premier race would be extra special.

"I think it means a lot for me, a lot for the people in Baltimore, and it's one more achievement in your career," Prado said. "For me, it would help me a lot, it would be a step forward in my career. It means even more because that's the place I've been riding for so many years. It'd be a great achievement in my own back yard."