Barbaro still close to Prado’s heart

Jockey Edgar Prado's thoughts turn to Barbaro during his induction into the National Racing Hall of
Participants in the 2008 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame induction ceremony today in Saratoga Springs hold their plaques. From left are: Bradley "Mike" Shannon, owner of inductee horse Manila; Diana Valenzuela, daughter of inductee jo
Participants in the 2008 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame induction ceremony today in Saratoga Springs hold their plaques. From left are: Bradley "Mike" Shannon, owner of inductee horse Manila; Diana Valenzuela, daughter of inductee jo

Keynote speaker Dr. Dean Richardson wrapped up his comments by saying, “If you love beauty, grace, strength, intelligence and courage, you have to love the thoroughbred.”

The veterinarian spoke for everyone in the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion during the Racing Hall of Fame induction ceremony Monday morning, but in particular he spoke for jockey Edgar Prado, with whom Richardson became linked in the public eye in 2006 during the aftermath of Barbaro’s breakdown in the Preakness.

Richardson became well-known for the surgical work he did for months on the Kentucky Derby winner. One of the lasting images of that year was the crestfallen Prado holding his saddle on the Pimlico track, but also of the rider visiting the horse who gave Prado one of the defining moments of his career.

That career, still in full bloom, was celebrated at the ceremony, during which Prado, one of six inductees, thanked trainer Michael Matz and owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson for hiring him to ride Barbaro, who eventually was euthanized.

“And to my friend Barbaro,” Prado said, sparking a round of applause, “who lives in my heart forever. I miss you, my friend.”

It was a poignant moment during a program that also honored trainer Carl Nafzger, jockey Ismael Valenzuela and horses Manila, Inside Information and Ancient Title.

Prado, 41, has been a fixture in New York since 1999, when he took some mounts for John Kimmel at Saratoga Race Course in place of the injured Richard Migliore.

By then, he was on the heels of a three-year span as the leading rider in the nation in victories while based in Maryland. That’s when Prado’s career really took off.

He won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top rider in 2006 and stopped two Triple Crown bids, beating War Emblem aboard Sarava in 2002 and Smarty Jones on Birdstone in 2004. Birdstone would go on to win the Travers, Prado’s only victory in Sar­atoga’s Mid-Summer Derby.

He appeared to be sitting on a potential Triple Crown winner of his own in 2006, after Barbaro won the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby in convincing fashion, but the colt broke down out of the starting gate in the Preakness.

That touched off a nation-wide love affair with a horse who never gave up and became the centerpiece of Richardson’s efforts to dev­elop new ways to repair and rehabilitate cat­astrophic leg injuries. In the middle of it all was Prado, who continued to visit the colt in Pennsylvania and wrote a book, “My Guy Barbaro: A Jockey’s Journey Through Love, Triumph and Heartbreak with America’s Favorite Horse.”

“A special thanks to Michael Matz and Roy and Gretchen Jackson for giving me the best trip of my life, other than my kids,” Prado said.

One of 11 children born outside Lima, Peru, Prado was introduced to racehorses by his father, who was a trainer.

“Who knew that a jockey from a small town in Peru would be nominated and inducted into the Hall of Fame?” he said. “One of my first memories of racing was when I was 8 years old. My father was the groom, my brother was the rider and I was the hot walker. Ever since then, horse racing has been my love and my life.”

Prado rode his 6,000th career winner in February at Gulfstream Park.

His Breeders’ Cup winners include Folklore (2005 Juvenile Fillies), Silver Train (2005 Sprint) and Round Pond (2006 Distaff).

He was presented by trainer Bob Kles­aris, who gave Prado his first business in the Northeast 20 years ago and eventually sent him to Maryland for the next big move of his career.

“Edgar’s a quiet gentleman,” Klesaris said. “He is a keg of dynamite when he’s on a horse, he knows when to pull the trigger and when he explodes, the result is phenomenal.”

“I’m truly, truly honored to be here,” Prado said. “I have proved that dedication, persistence and dreams can be accomplished.

I find myself filled with joy. For the past 23 years, my career has taken many roads.“

Nafzger is best known for having trained 1990 Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Unbridled, and Street Sense, who became the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner to follow up during his 3-year-old season to win the Derby. Street Sense added the Travers to his resume last August.

He also won two Alabamas, with Lady Joanne last year and Banshee Breeze in 1998, and won his first Travers in 2000 with Unshaded.

“Dr. Richardson said it the best, we’ve got to get back to the horse,” Nafzger said. “The horse, that’s who brought us here. The horse has taken me from Texas to the Hall of Fame. I haven’t done anything. A horse is easy to train. It’s just hard to be patient. The horse is the reason we’re here today.”

Valenzuela, who lives in California, was unable to attend the induction for health reasons, but he was honored in a special ceremony at Santa Anita last month. He won the 1958 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Tim Tam, and 10 years later, completed the Derby-Preakness double again with Forward Pass. He won 22 stakes aboard Hall of Famer Kelso.

Manila, one of the most successful grass horses in American racing history, won the Breeders’ Cup Turf and closed out his career by winning the 1987 Arlington Million; Inside Information won 14 of 17 career starts for the Phipps Stable, including a 131⁄2-length win in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Distaff that still stands as a record for margin of victory; and Ancient Title won 24 of 57 starts in seven seasons of domination on the west coast, but also ventured east to win the 1975 Whitney at Saratoga as a 5-year-old despite carrying 128 pounds.

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