Updated on 09/16/2011 7:34AM

Prado made all the right moves


ELMONT, N.Y. - A Triple Crown season that began on a sour note for jockey Edgar Prado ended ever so sweetly Saturday when he guided longshot Sarava to the biggest upset in Belmont Stakes history.

It was the first classic victory for the Peruvian-born Prado, who had dominated the Maryland circuit in the 1990's and was this country's leading rider from 1997-99.

"I worked real hard to be where I want to be, but I was never at this level where I am now,' said Prado, who moved his tack to New York in the summer of 1999. "Maryland was like a trampoline for me. It helped put me in the spotlight, but it wasn't bright like it is now in New York.'

Until this year, Prado had not been a factor in the Triple Crown, going 0 for 2 in the Kentucky Derby, 0 for 5 in the Preakness, and winless in two prior Belmont mounts. Moreover, he hadn't ridden a horse with a real chance in any of the three races.

This year, however, he came to Louisville with the Derby favorite. But, Harlan's Holiday, whom Prado had ridden to victories in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, could fare no better than seventh at Churchill Downs.

"It left a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth,' said Prado, who turns 35 on Wednesday.

Things didn't get much better in Baltimore when Harlan's Holiday could only finish fourth in the Preakness. But, earlier that day, Prado had guided Sarava to a four-length victory in the Sir Barton Stakes, leaving a lasting impression on Prado.

Prado said he told trainer Ken McPeek, who was also the trainer of Harlan's Holiday at that time, "that I really, really like this horse. It impressed me the way he did it. He galloped out really strong and coming back he couldn't blow out a match. He didn't beat tough quality competition that day, but he did it real easy.'

In the hours after the Preakness, owner Jack Wolf said that Harlan's Holiday would not run in the Belmont. But, McPeek told Prado he would most likely run Sarava.

That was all Prado needed to hear. Prado probably could have ridden Preakness runner-up Magic Weisner or Wood runner-up Medaglia d'Oro in the Belmont, but didn't pursue it. "We were happy where we were at,' said Prado, whose agent is Bob Frieze.

Not only did Prado have confidence in his Belmont mount, he felt there were chinks in the armor of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem. Prado felt War Emblem was too much on the muscle in the Preakness and was due for a letdown.

"He never really settled,' Prado said. "He was pulling. I thought it was going to be hard to run like that with a couple of speed horses in the race. Maybe fighting the jockey for much of the race would take something out of him for the end.'

Still, Prado had enough respect for War Emblem that he wanted to follow him. Down the backside, Prado had Sarava in fifth position and in the clear. When War Emblem, who stumbled at the start, made an inside bid for the lead at the five-furlong marker, Prado decided to follow him.

"But he made only an eighth of a mile move,' Prado said. "I said, 'It's time for me to get out of here' so I eased out and tried to follow Medaglia d'Oro.'

Around the turn, Prado guided Sarava in between Proud Citizen and Medaglia d'Oro and took the lead near the three-sixteenths pole. With five whacks of Prado's right-handed stick, Sarava outlasted Medaglia d'Oro to prevail by a half-length. His winning mutuel of $142.50 was the largest in the 134-year history of the Belmont.

Prado's victory in the Belmont helped move him into second place behind only Jerry Bailey in purse money won by jockeys this year with $6,862,545.

More importantly, it cemented his place among the elite riders in the country.