KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. - 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 Thursday, nearly a week after he pulled up Barbaro when the colt sustained 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 way 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.”
Univ. of Pennsylvania via EPA
Front-view pictures of radiographs of Barbaro's right rear leg before surgery, left, and after surgery, right.
“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 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.”
The Godolphin doping scandal deepened Monday, with British racing authorities announcing that seven more horses have tested positive for steroids, including the winner of the world's oldest classic.
Racing after seven years of retirement, Gary Stevens rode Oxbow to a win in the Preakness, justifying his return
Update on the condition of Barbaro
May 24: NBC's Melissa Stark reports on the condition of Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, and shows the first video of the racehorse since his devastating injury at the Preakness.
Triple Crown winners
The horses that have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in the same year.
Derby Day finery
Fashion statements fill Churchill Downs as race fans display their hats.