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Change in plans

The Baltimore Sun

Edgar Prado was supposed to be the one riding overwhelming favorite Big Brown in his quest for the Triple Crown yesterday.

That's what he wanted, and that's what trainer Rick Dutrow wanted.

Instead, Prado climbed aboard Riley Tucker to try for an upset of the Kentucky Derby winner. Asked if the experience would be bittersweet, he said, "Definitely."

An injury cost Prado his chance to ride Big Brown in the horse's debut in September. But Dutrow had his favorite jockey, Prado, aboard the colt for winter workouts in Florida.

"He was great," Prado said yesterday. "Everything was so easy. He was beating horses who had already run three or four more races than him."

Just before the colt ran his first race of the year in March, however, Big Brown's owners, IEAH Stables, made the call to switch to Kent Desormeaux. Dutrow didn't argue. He respects Desormeaux and knows that the money men have the final say.

Dutrow said Friday that he never wanted Prado off the horse. "I think he's the best in the business," he said.

Asked how he felt about the switch, Prado said sarcastically: "I was jumping up and down. I was so happy.

"What do you think?" he said after a moment. "It can be a tough business."

Prado, perhaps best known as the jockey who rode Barbaro in 2006, doesn't hold the switch against Dutrow. "I know he tried as hard as he could to keep me on the horse," he said.

The trainer said he will continue to use Prado at every opportunity.

"We've been lucky together," Prado said. "Anywhere he needs me, I'll be there for him. And I know that anywhere I need him, he'll be there."


Remembering '83

Bill Boniface still has clear memories of the 1983 Preakness, when his horse, Deputed Testamony, came from behind to win as a 14-1 long shot.

"It was the highlight of my career, being in my hometown," Boniface said yesterday before giving the trophy to the winner of the fourth race, named in honor of his horse. "I stood here on the steps and when he made the move on the inside, I knew he was gone."

Later that night, during a party at the house of sportscaster and fellow horseman Jim McKay, Boniface placed the Woodlawn Vase, given to the Preakness winner, on the dining room table.

"That was kind of neat, to have the vase as the centerpiece at the Preakness party," said Boniface, who owned some horses with McKay.

As proud as Boniface was of Deputed Testamony's performance at Pimlico that day, he also recalled with great joy and some regret what happened a year later.

"A lot of people forget he came back a year later and set the track record that still stands in the City of Baltimore Handicap at 1:40 4/5," Boniface said.

Little did anyone know that Deputed Testamony broke a bone in the race, and his racing career ended soon after.

"When he set the record, he was running on three feet," Boniface said. "He was just a great horse to train. He did everything right. He gave everything he had every time."


No track worries

As rain drenched Baltimore on Thursday night and Friday morning, some might have worried about muddy track conditions for the Preakness.

Pimlico track superintendent Jamie Richardson wasn't among them.

"We prepared it," he said yesterday. "We knew the rain was coming, so we sealed it up as best we could on Thursday night, and we kept it sealed on Friday."

Crews "seal" the track by pulling heavy steel plates across it to keep the surface as smooth and flat as possible. Mother Nature then offered an assist as the rain stopped Friday afternoon and yesterday dawned clear and breezy.

By the first race, the track was listed as "fast."

"I think we might actually need to get the water trucks out to dampen it a bit," Richardson said just before noon. "But I'm pleased. I think it's running very fair, and the horses seem to be getting over it real well."


Blessed bets

For many hopeful handicappers on Preakness Day, the sight of the Rev. Joe Bochenek of St. Brigid's Parish in Canton making his way through the crowd is welcome indeed.

Father Joe leads a contingent of about 350 volunteers from St. Brigid's and the Knights of Columbus who help as ushers and ticket checkers at the Preakness. He has been doing this for 19 years, and as the priest makes his way around the bustling apron checking on his volunteers, he wishes everyone who makes eye contact good luck.

Some bettors want to take advantage of Father Joe's special connections.

"Sometimes, they want me to bless their betting tickets," he said. After he sees which horses they've picked, "I tell them, 'You might need a miracle.' "


Sam's club

Standing across Rogers Avenue from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protesters was another group vying for attention from fans entering the track. The members of the Sam Cassell All-Stars' 10-and-under AAU basketball team were raising money for their trip to the national championship tournament in New Orleans in July.

The program, based in East Baltimore, is sponsored by Cassell, the former Dunbar High star who plays for the Boston Celtics, and operated by fellow Dunbar graduate Kurk Lee.

It's the second straight year at least one of Cassell's teams has reached the national tournament. Cassell picked up the tab for the tournament registration, as well as uniforms and gear. The team is hoping to raise about $3,000 for travel expenses.

Foot traffic was brisk as of early afternoon, and the collecting was good, coach Everett Winchester said as he supervised his players. It likely didn't hurt that so many people were slowing to take notice of the PETA protesters holding signs and clanging bells across the street.

"No, they're not a problem," Winchester said with a grin. "We're not the ones they're after."


Getting some rest

Sleeping before a race? It seems jockeys do it all the time.

"No Smoking In Sleeping Room," reads the sign on a door just off the Pimlico jockeys room. The room contains a handful of bunk beds.

"Use it all the time," said Anna Napravnik, who rode Stay Close in yesterday's 10th race, two races before the Preakness.

She doesn't worry about missing her race. "You set an alarm or have the valet wake you up," she said.


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