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Humble jockey's thoughts with Barbaro

| Friday, May 26, 2006

NEW YORK -- Edgar Prado was back at work, riding in a $32,000 claiming race that was a long way from the Preakness.

He finished seventh aboard Mighty Good in the second race Thursday at Belmont Park. But his thoughts were still with Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner who is on the road to recovery after a horrific breakdown.

"I'm a human being, you know• I have feelings," a somber Prado said yesterday, nearly a week after he pulled up Barbaro when the colt suffered catastrophic injuries to his right hind leg. "Even the toughest men cry, right?"

Prado, one of the nation's leading riders, returned to work at Belmont one day after the Preakness. He has been praised for reacting quickly to bring Barbaro to a halt and likely saving his life. The jockey insists the horse deserves credit, too.

"I think he figured out right away something was wrong," Prado said. "Instead of fighting me, he tried to help himself, too. It was a combination of both of us. He's very athletic. He was like telling me, 'Come on, help me out here.' "

Seconds earlier, Barbaro was so eager to run, he broke out of the starting gate early. Prado then led the colt back around the gate to be reloaded. But just as the crowd began roaring, many believing Barbaro would not only win the Preakness but go on to take the Triple Crown three weeks later in the Belmont Stakes, the powerful colt took a bad step.

"He pulled up like a typical horse, but he didn't go crazy," Prado said. "He didn't try to throw himself on the ground. He stood up until I jumped off. ... About three or four strides, he had the leg in the air. That was very smart."

With the crowd stunned and the rest of the field racing around Pimlico, Prado thought for an instant Barbaro might not survive. When a blue curtain was raised to keep Barbaro out of view from the thousands of fans nearby, Prado said, "It crossed my mind. But I knew this particular horse, and that the owners (Gretchen and Roy Jackson) would give him every chance possible to live."

Prado has not seen Barbaro since the colt was loaded into an ambulance last Saturday night and taken to the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at New Bolton Center in Kennett Square. The hospital is less than five miles from the Jacksons' farm in West Grove, and trainer Michael Matz also lives nearby in Coatesville. The jockey hopes to find time to make a call on Barbaro soon.

"When you are attached to a horse who has brought you so much joy only a few weeks ago, and put you in the spotlight and makes your dreams come true, it definitely breaks your heart," Prado said of his first Derby winner. "A lot of people, not only me, said this horse could have been a Triple Crown horse."

Prado saw replays of the race for the first time Monday, and he remains convinced Barbaro's early break from the gate had no bearing on the life-threatening injuries. Until then, he just couldn't bring himself to watch.

"I don't think it was anything, just bad racing luck," he said. "He broke clean. He broke better than the Derby. ... It was just bad luck."

At a news conference this week, Roy Jackson thanked everyone who helped give Barbaro a chance to survive. He started with Prado "for the job he did pulling up the horse."

Prado believes Barbaro's injury occurred "50 to 75 yards" after he left the gate.

"He told me that he just came down the wrong way on the leg and it was just one of those things that happens in racing," Jackson said.

Earlier this year, Prado's mother died.

"That was the worst day of my life," he said. "Saturday was the toughest day of my career. It was love at first sight with Barbaro. We both got along pretty good, and he's a special horse."

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