Native Dancer: The Nearly Perfect Grey Ghost of Sagamore
When trainer Michael Matz asked owners Gretchen and Roy Jackson which rider they wanted him to pursue for a promising colt named Barbaro, one name topped their list – Edgar Prado.
Countless owners provided the same name to trainers over the years, and why not? Since Prado arrived from his native Peru to compete in the United States, gaining his first victory aboard Single Love at Calder Race Course in Miami on June 1, 1986, he has epitomized professionalism and class.
Matz said of the decision: “He was an experienced veteran rider who had always ridden at the top level. It was something I didn’t have to worry about.”
According to Matz, Prado unfailingly arrived at the paddock having studied the past performances and run through various scenarios concerning how the race might unfold.
“He was a professional, no doubt about that,” the trainer said. “He knew the races. He knew the competition.”
Prado formed a magnificent team with Barbaro. He was aboard when the highly promising 3-year-old romped by 6 ½ lengths over Bluegrass Cat in the Kentucky Derby in 2006, the largest margin of victory in the run for the roses since Assault rolled by eight lengths in 1946.
Prado’s care for his horses was there for all to see when Barbaro severely injured his right hind leg shortly after the starting gates opened in the Preakness. He pulled up his mount as quickly as possible and jumped off, keeping the horse as calm as possible until help could arrive. Although Barbaro could not ultimately be saved, Prado was credited with giving him a fighting chance at survival. His swift actions were hailed by scores of well-wishers.
Prado ignores the odds and rides every race with the expectation of winning. That allowed him to pull two of the most memorable upsets in Belmont Stakes history. When front-running Triple Crown threat War Emblem stumbled badly at the start of the 2002 Belmont, Prado capitalized and stunned onlookers by guiding 70.25-to-1 Sarava first across the finish line. With another Triple Crown on the line two years later for Smarty Jones, hard-riding Prado launched a tremendous rally with 36-to-1 Birdstone to spoil the Smarty party.
It was typical of Prado that he said after Birdstone’s one-length triumph, “I’m very sorry, but I had to do my job. This is just part of the business.”
Prado’s persistence in the Breeders’ Cup was rewarded when he earned his first two victories in 2005, with Folklore taking the Juvenile Fillies and Silver Train delivering as a longshot in the Sprint. He would later add victories in the Distaff with Round Pound in 2006, with Shared Account in the Filly & Mare Turf in 2010, and with Runhappy in the 2015 Sprint.
PRADO AND GRAHAM MOTION TEAMED TO WIN THE 2010 FILLY & MARE TURF
Prado rose to prominence when he rode the Mid-Atlantic circuit in the 1990s. He led the nation in victories from 1997-'99, prompting him to join the rugged New York jockey colony in 1999. He received the Eclipse Award as North America’s leading rider in 2006 and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2008.
Prado deeply moved his audience when he spoke at his induction in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
“I have proven that dreams can be accomplished,” he said. “I grew up in a poor part of Lima, Peru. One of my first memories of horse racing was when I was 8 years old. My father was a groom, my brother was a jockey, and I was a hot walker. Horse racing has been my life since then.”
Prado, 48, ranks second all-time among active riders with more than 7,000 victories. He stands fifth among active jockeys with more than $271 million in earnings.
What a glorious ride!
Note: This story was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated.
- Grew up with eight brothers and three sisters.
- Two brothers also became jockeys, including Anibal, who came to the U.S. to ride.
- Prado’s father was a trainer in his native Peru
- Prado initially came to the U.S. as a contract rider for Florida-based trainer Manny Azpurua
- Pulled greatest upset in Belmont Stakes history with Sarava, who paid $142.50 to win