08/01/2008 11:00PM

Prado's move to N.Y. paved way to Hall of Fame

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - After he dominated the Maryland circuit for most of the 1990s, it was only a matter of time before Edgar Prado decided to ply his trade regularly on the larger stage of New York or California.

That time came in the summer of 1999 when, after jockey Richard Migliore was injured in a spill at Belmont Park, trainer John Kimmel summoned Prado to ride first-call for him at Saratoga. In addition to riding for Kimmel, Prado made inroads with many of New York's finest horsemen and he finished that meet as the second-leading rider behind Jerry Bailey.

That success prompted Prado to move his tack to New York regularly. Nine years, 228 graded stakes victories, and one Eclipse Award later, Prado was elected to Thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame.

Prado, 41, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday along with trainer Carl Nafzger, retired jockey Ismael Valenzuela, and equine champions Ancient Title, Inside Information, and Manila. The Hall of Fame ceremony will take place 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion across the street from Saratoga Race Course. The ceremony is open to the public.

Prado said at the time of Kimmel's call, he was contemplating making a move to either New York or Southern California. But having ridden many horses in Maryland for New York trainers who would ship down for stakes, New York was the obvious choice. Still, Prado admitted it was difficult to leave a circuit where he had won more than 1,000 races combined in 1997-98.

"It was very hard for me to leave a place where I averaged 400 or 500 winners a year in Maryland," Prado said. "My family was living very comfortable, I was very happy with the area and the whole situation. Moving to New York, everything's going to change . . . but I'm glad that I made that decision because that was the turnaround. I was winning in Maryland, but I didn't have the recognition that I do have right now."

Prado's first big horse in New York was Lemon Drop Kid, a mount he picked up in spring 2000 and guided to five graded stakes victories that year. Quality mounts followed on a regular basis, including Saint Liam, Birdstone, Wonder Again, You, Silver Train, and of course, Barbaro, whom Prado rode to victory in the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Prado will always be connected with Barbaro, who broke a leg in the Preakness and battled for seven months before being euthanized in January 2007.

"Every time that I was riding him - it gives me goose bumps to think about it - he came back and he wasn't even blowing," Prado said. "He handled almost any kind of surface, sloppy track, turf, dirt. I think those kind of horses are very hard to find."

Prado said the popularity of Barbaro "sped up my induction into the Hall of Fame."

Prado missed out on two potential dream mounts when he broke his ankle in a spill at Saratoga last Sept. 1. He was scheduled to ride Midnight Lute that day in the Forego. Not only did Midnight Lute win the Forego, he won the Breeders' Cup Sprint two months later as Prado could only watch from the sidelines.

Two days after Prado suffered his injury, he was scheduled to ride Big Brown in a maiden turf race. That horse went on to become this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner with Kent Desormeaux.

"Everything happens for a reason I guess, it wasn't meant to be," Prado said. "We're looking forward. Hopefully, we continue to do well. I still have to work hard even after Monday. It's one of those things you get inducted, but you cannot rest on your laurels and stay home."

Through Aug. 1, Prado had 6,106 career victories, ranking him 14th all-time. His mounts have earned $209,800,776, putting him sixth on the all-time list. Prado said he still has the desire to compete and ride for many more years, meaning he could finish his career in the top 10 all-time in wins and perhaps become the leading rider in purse money won.

"Definitely the fire's still on," Prado said. "As long as I have my clients and my clients give me the opportunity, I'll be here working in the mornings and trying to compete. I'm at my best level now, you know."