Edgar Prado rode the kind of gutsy race aboard long shot Strawberry Reason in the Martha Washington Stakes yesterday that has marked his incredible comeback after multiple back fractures.
At the crucial point in the $100,000 graded stakes at Laurel Park, Prado closed a gap approaching the final turn that caused Mario Pino, riding even-money favorite Blue Sky Princess, to take up and then go three horses wide in the stretch.
The move probably cost Pino the race.
That's not to take anything away from Strawberry Reason. The 3-year-old daughter of the Australian "iron horse," Strawberry Road, had plenty of stamina in the stretch, extending her long stride and drawing off to a two-length victory over the heavily backed favorite.
The winner is part of the Maryland string of Canadian trainer Roger Attfield, whose local outfit is looked after by his chief assistant, Holly Robinson.
Strawberry Reason is owned by Virginia Kraft Payson, whose far-flung equine empire has had a remarkable year. Payson has so many horses that she said yesterday, "I'm afraid to count them. It's a little like asking a woman her weight or age."
The highlights of her stable this year include L'Carriere's win in the Saratoga Cup; graded stakes wins for a pair of fillies, 2-year-old Far North and now Strawberry Reason; double victories at Saratoga for her jumper, St. Elias, who is trained by Marylander Tom Voss; a successful campaign in England for South Salem, one of that country's best 2-year-old colts, and a rejected $17 million Japanese offer for her young stallion, St. Jovite.
"That was something to think about," Payson said. "But I truly believe that St. Jovite is going to be a great sire and one that is dTC needed in North America."
Laurel co-owner Karin De Francis treated Payson to champagne after the race -- and ordered fresh strawberries to go along with the toast.
Johnston set for 'Million'
Mark Johnston, who fractured his collarbone in a freak spill at Pimlico Race Course on Sept. 8, returned to competition almost exactly a month later yesterday at Laurel and will be aboard Ameri Valay on Saturday in the Maryland Million Classic.
He also will ride the well-regarded 2-year-old, Count On Numbers, in the Nursery.