Pay attention to Edgar Prado today. He's the most intriguing human in the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes. He's the two-legged King of the Spoilers, a jockey who twice in this decade has climbed aboard worse horses than he'll ride in today's race and nevertheless ruined someone else's Triple Crown hopes, same as he'll try to shatter heavily favored Big Brown's chances.
The difference for Prado this year? This race might be personal.
Prado wouldn't admit any such thing the other day after he strode out of the winner's circle at Belmont after the second of a typically busy seven-race day for him at his home track. Nor will Big Brown trainer Rick Dutrow and owner Michael Iavarone concede that today's 11â2-mile test could darken into a grudge match, even if it was Iavarone who made the call to put Kent Desormeaux atop Big Brown this spring, against Dutrow's wishes and to Prado's surprise.
"Twice I had the opportunity to ride him," Prado begins. "The first when I was in Saratoga (last fall) and broke my ankle. Then the second time, I was supposed to ride him in Florida. The owner went to dinner with Kent and Kent picked him up, so.....What can I do?"
For guys who insist there are no hard feelings crackling between them, just normal racetrack business, Prado, Dutrow and Iavarone have talked quite a bit about each other in the three-week wait to see if Big Brown will become only the 12th Triple Crown winner in history, not the 11th to fail in the past 30 years.
What thickens the plot this time is Prado helped cause the last two failures by smartly riding 36-1 shot Birdstone to victory over War Emblem in 2002, and 70-1 longshot Sarava to a giant-killing victory over heavily-favored Smarty Jones in 2004. After that race, Prado was actually booed.
This year, after the Preakness Stakes, Dutrow and Iavarone charged that Prado deliberately tried to ruin Big Brown's chase at history.
"It looked like he was just trying to keep our horse (trapped) in a box," Dutrow added. "It didn't look like he was out to get the best finish out of his horse."
Iavarone added, "It was a suicide mission."
Prado heard the accusations. He denies them, even though replays show he already had his mount, Riley Tucker, race riding against Big Brown in the Preakness's first bend and eventually finished dead last, more than 17 lengths back.
"Well, you always want to beat the horse that's the favorite, no?" Prado answers. "You won't want to look out for the horse that's 40-1, 50-1 going in the back of the pack."
Until someone invents a machine that can X-ray the human conscience, there's no way to know how Prado will be seeking payback against Big Brown's handlers today.
Prado's past Belmont success makes him particularly hard to ignore. And this year, unlike the other upsets he's pulled, he's sitting atop the second-best horse in the race, Casino Drive. He's a half-brother of the last two Belmont winners, Jazil and Rags to Riches.
Simply put, both Prado and his horse have the pedigree to ruin Big Brown's run at immortality. And this year, same as those others where Prado played the spoiler, Prado's behavior hasn't changed.
He's been laying back, coolly biding his time, waiting for the right moment to pounce.