05/29/2008 12:00AM

Prado sounds spoiler alert again


ELMONT, N.Y. - Edgar Prado is really a nice guy, but when it comes to the Triple Crown, the bad boy in him tends to come out.

Twice in a three-year period, Prado won the Belmont Stakes, and in each instance those victories denied a horse the opportunity to win the Triple Crown. In 2002, Prado guided 70-1 shot Sarava to victory in the Belmont when War Emblem was going for the Triple Crown. In 2004, Prado was aboard 36-1 shot Birdstone, who ran past the previously undefeated Smarty Jones in the stretch to deny that Triple Crown bid before a record crowd of 120,139.

Unlike War Emblem - who basically lost his chance to win by stumbling at the start - Smarty Jones came into the stretch of the Belmont in front. Prado was the only one with a chance to beat him.

"My body was pushing forward, my legs, my arms, everything was in motion to continue to ride real hard, but my heart and my mind, they were with Smarty Jones," said Prado, who recalled apologizing to Stewart Elliott, the jockey of Smarty Jones, while galloping out. "Not only mine, but 120,000 people came here to see a horse win the Triple Crown. But we are there to do a job and ride the best race possible. We have to fulfill our responsibilities and commitments and do the best we can to win the race."

Prado, who turns 41 five days after the Belmont, will be in position to deny yet another Triple Crown in the June 7 Belmont Stakes when he rides the Kentucky-bred, Japanese-based Casino Drive against undefeated Big Brown, who is trying to snap Thoroughbred racing's 30-year Triple Crown drought.

Adding more intrigue is the fact that Big Brown is trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., who employs Prado on a regular basis.

According to Equibase statistics, Prado has ridden 268 of Dutrow's 1,221 career winners, or 22 percent.

Also, Dutrow and Michael Iavarone, co-owner of Big Brown, were somewhat critical of Prado's ride aboard Riley Tucker in the Preakness. They claimed that Prado attempted to keep Big Brown pinned down inside while not necessarily giving his horse the best chance to win. Riley Tucker finished last.

Prado dismissed that claim, noting that Riley Tucker broke sharply while Big Brown did not, and it was Big Brown who initiated contact with Riley Tucker around the clubhouse turn. After Big Brown passed him midway around the turn, Riley Tucker went ahead of Big Brown to reclaim second position early on down the backside.

"Before I hit the first turn, I'm second, who is inside of me?" Prado asked rhetorically, knowing the answer was Big Brown. "He is running into me, I'm not running into him. He hit my horse sideways, then my horse took off. I'm not chasing. I'm just riding my race. I'm lying second, that's where I want to be. I don't know where the chasing or the boxing-in part is."

In Casino Drive, Prado will most likely be aboard the second betting choice in the Belmont behind Big Brown. Casino Drive, a half-brother to Belmont Stakes winners Jazil and Rags to Riches, has won both of his starts, including the Peter Pan Stakes. In that race, Prado rode Golden Spikes, whom Casino Drive roared past in upper stretch under Kent Desormeaux en route to a 5 3/4-length victory.

"He got through and split horses, and Kent only let him go for 70 yards and the horse leveled off," Prado said. "That was pretty impressive."

Prado admitted it will be a bit strange trying to prevent his friend Dutrow from winning the Triple Crown, but that's what his goal will be.

"I'm going to go over there to ride my race and do everything I can to win," he said.

Dutrow: 'It's a foregone conclusion'

Dutrow at first felt uneasy after Big Brown developed a quarter crack last Friday, but his swagger has returned after he watched his horse gallop the last two days.

On Thursday morning, Dutrow watched Big Brown gallop 1 1/2 miles under Michelle Nevin. In the afternoon, during a national conference call, Dutrow basically predicted that his horse would win the Belmont and become the sport's 12th Triple Crown winner.

"I feel that he will do it," Dutrow said. "I feel that it's a foregone conclusion. I've seen the horses he's been with; I've seen our horse. I expect him to win this race."

One horse Dutrow appears to be less afraid of is Casino Drive. After the Preakness, Dutrow said that it's a cold exacta, Big Brown-Casino Drive. Wednesday, he advised bettors to use other horses underneath.

"This Japanese horse, he's got so much to prove," he said. "I don't know if he's on top of his game. I'm getting different reports from people. I would not depend on that horse to be second."

Dutrow's confidence is stemming from watching Big Brown the last two days. Both Dutrow and Ian McKinlay, the hoof specialist who has been working on Big Brown, remain pleased with the healing progress of the quarter crack. McKinlay did not do any work on the quarter crack for a second straight day and won't put a patch on it until the morning Big Brown is scheduled to breeze. Dutrow said he is likely to breeze Big Brown on Monday.

"The day he wants to breeze, I'll [patch] it a couple of hours before," McKinlay said. "I'm leaving it open as long as possible because it'll heal up [better]."

Said Dutrow, "If I told Ian we wanted to breeze him [Friday], he would come patch him and we would breeze him. But we have extra time, it's not anything that we have to rush into. The longer we wait, the better off it is for that particular area."

Dutrow criticizes Servis, Elliott

During Tuesday's conference call, Dutrow was asked if he feared someone trying to ride the Belmont just to beat Big Brown. It has been suggested by some observers that jockeys Jerry Bailey and Alex Solis moved their horses early in an attempt to force Smarty Jones and Elliott into a premature move.

Dutrow said he didn't believe that to be the case and criticized trainer John Servis and Elliott for the way they prepared Smarty Jones for the Belmont. Dutrow erroneously said that Smarty Jones had his last Belmont work over a sloppy sealed track at Philadelphia Park. The track was labeled fast for that move.

Dutrow, however, said Elliott should have taken Smarty Jones in hand late in the Preakness rather than win by 11 1/2 lengths.

"He did not need to win the way he did in the Preakness in order to get to the Belmont the right way," Dutrow said. "If you noticed our horse, Kent may have asked him for a little run turning for home, which he did, but at the eighth pole he grabbed a hold and he knew we still had another race to go through. I think that the connections of Smarty Jones just were not smart in order to get their job done for the Belmont."

The criticisms meant little to Servis.

"He's under a lot of pressure and a lot of times we say things we don't mean," Servis said. "I'm taking it with a grain of salt."

* Tale of Ekati galloped one mile over the main track on Thursday. Despite the colt's slow six-furlong workout in 1:18.48 on Monday, trainer Barclay Tagg does not plan on adjusting his training schedule. Tale of Ekati will likely work in company on Sunday, assistant trainer Robin Smullen said.

* Casino Drive returned to the track Thursday morning for a gallop, one day after a slow five-furlong workout.