02/11/2008 1:00AM

Prado joins the 6,000 club


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Edgar Prado became the 16th jockey in history to win 6,000 races by guiding Sumphin to victory for trainer Tom Albertrani in Sunday's sixth race at Gulfstream Park.

Prado was joined in the winner's circle to celebrate the milestone by the majority of his colleagues from the jockeys' room, Hall of Fame rider Angel Cordero Jr., and with his wife Lilliana, daughter Patricia, and son Luis. Trainer Manny Azpurua, who held Prado's contract as an apprentice when he first arrived in the U.S. in 1986, also came down to congratulate his longtime friend.

"It's a special feeling. I feel very blessed," Prado told the crowd. "I've had a lot of people behind me over the years. You need a lot of support to accomplish something like this and I'm glad I was able to do it at Gulfstream Park."

Prado won his 5,000th race at Gulfstream Park aboard Wynn Dot Comma in the 2004 Swale Stakes.

The 40-year-old Prado took out his first jockey license in 1983 and was the leading apprentice rider in his native Peru before coming to the U.S. as contract rider for Azpurua. He rode his first winner in the U.S., Single Love, on June 1, 1986 at Calder Race Course before ultimately moving his tack to New England and then Maryland. Prado was a perennial leading rider in Maryland for nearly a decade and the winningest jockey in North America for three consecutive years from 1997 through 1999.

Prado joined the New York circuit on a regular basis in 2000 and has since become one of the elite members of his profession, culminating his climb to the top with an Eclipse Award in 2006 - the same year he won his first Kentucky Derby with Barbaro. Prado has also won two Belmont Stakes, with longshots Sarava in 2002 and Birdstone in 2004, and the Breeders' Cup Distaff aboard Round Pond in 2006.

Other noteworthy achievements in Prado's career include being named winner of both the Mike Venezia Award and an ESPY Award from ESPN in 2006, and winning the Saratoga riding title in 2002.

Prado did not hesitate when asked about the highlight of his 24-year riding career.

"Winning the Kentucky Derby aboard Barbaro," said Prado.

Prado was also quick to praise Steve Rushing, his jockey agent in Maryland, and Bob Frieze, who currently handles his riding engagements, for being an integral part of his success.

"I've been fortunate to have two good agents," said Prado. "Steve was really responsible for taking my career to a new level after we left Boston and went to Maryland.He was like family to me. Unfortunately we had to part ways when I moved to New York. That's where I picked up Bob, and with his help I've been able to have continued success.

Albertrani said he was delighted Prado was able to win No. 6,000 on his horse.

"I'm glad he did it on one of mine," said Albertrani, who like Prado also rode on the New England circuit early in his racetrack career. "We've known each other a long time. I've always respected him a lot, not only as an excellent rider but as a gentleman as well."