Updated on 09/16/2011 6:59AM

Prado's star rising among jockey elite

Bill Denver/Equi-Photos
Edgar Prado, on Derby horse Harlan's Holiday, and McPeek at Gulfstream Tuesday morning, getting ready for Saturday's Florida Derby.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Edgar Prado is taking the long view. Even if he does not win the Florida Derby on Saturday aboard Harlan's Holiday, the fact Prado was hand-picked to ride the colt means very much to him.

"When people start thinking of you, out of so many good riders, that makes me feel very fortunate, very lucky," Prado said Tuesday, minutes after working Harlan's Holiday at Gulfstream Park. "I want to step forward in my career, and this is a good step."

Prado was chosen to ride by trainer Ken McPeek and owners Jack and Laurie Wolf. Veteran Tony D'Amico had ridden Harlan's Holiday in most of his starts, but after the colt was narrowly beaten by Booklet in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth Stakes, a change was made.

The move may eventually be noted as a milestone. Year after year, jockeys named Bailey, Day, McCarron, and Stevens are accustomed to fielding offers for this or that major Kentucky Derby contender. But until McPeek named Prado on Harlan's Holiday, Prado had not been among the go-to hierarchy.

"I think Edgar's on the verge of everything," said McPeek. "He dominated in Maryland for years, and he's been the leading rider in New York and Florida. He's like clockwork, he's so good."

Though he has yet to win a Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup race, Prado already has enjoyed a sensational career, with his North American mounts having won 4,460 races and more than $96 million in purses.

A native of Peru who came to the U.S. in 1986, Prado, now 34, moved in 1989 from New England to the Maryland circuit. Shortly after arriving there, Prado replaced Kent Desormeaux, who had moved on to Southern California, as the perennial leading rider. In 1999, he began riding regularly at Gulfstream in the winter and in New York the rest of the year.

Since leaving Maryland, where he owns a farm still today, he has won Grade 1 races aboard Lemon Drop Kid, Flute, Timboroa, and Mongoose. He has been the leading rider at Belmont, and he is battling John Velazquez as top rider at the current Gulfstream meet.

Yet in the stratosphere that is the Kentucky Derby, he is a virtual unknown. "That's what I've been working for all these years," he said. "I've had a lot of people support me, and now other people are starting to pay attention. I'm in this to achieve one goal: win."

On Tuesday morning, Prado may have moved closer to winning the Florida Derby with Harlan's Holiday, guiding him through a five-furlong work in 1:00.60. The work was the last one for all prospects for the Florida Derby, as most of the others had their final works a day or two earlier.

"He did everything I asked him to do," said Prado.

The Ohio-bred Harlan's Holiday, said McPeek, "reminds me of the guy who comes into work with his lunch pail at 6 a.m., then leaves at 6 p.m. with a smile on his face. He does his job well and never complains. He's easy."

Harlan's Holiday was favored over Booklet in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, and could be again Saturday in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby. After those two, the next wagering choices figure to be the group of Blue Burner, High Star, Nokoma, and Stephentown.

With riders, these are the probables for the Florida Derby: Booklet, Jorge Chavez; Harlan's Holiday, Prado; Blue Burner, Bailey; D'Coach, Javier Castellano; High Star, Stevens; Nokoma, Velazquez; Personal Reward, Eibar Coa; Puck, Cornelio Velasquez; and Stephentown, Day.

The Florida Derby will be televised live on ESPN on a one-hour show that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern. Post time is 5:40.

Entries were to be drawn Wednesday at a press breakfast at the track.