Friday, February 02, 2001
Apprentice jockey seizing the day
Prather rides boldly - and frequently - to winner's circle
Kris Prather's first mount was a misnomer. The horse is known as Courageous Man. His past performance chart suggests cowardice.
He is a chicken, Prather declared. And he's not fast. ... If I lose a race, the other horse is faster.
Prather is an apprentice jockey whose style says seasoning and whose mouth expresses almost exactly what's on her mind. She is 22 years old, not yet seven months removed from her first race, yet completely confident that the Triple Crown is not her desire so much as her destiny.
She might be pretty hard to take if she weren't so terribly hard to beat.
Prather won three races Wednesday night at Turfway Park, overtaking Glenn Corbett as the winningest North American rider of the new year. She won twice Thursday at the Northern Kentucky track, giving her 40 victories. She had finished in the money in nearly 60 percent of her starts and had generated $511,977 in earnings through Wednesday.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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Not bad for a month's work in miserable weather. (Turfway had 11 cancellations in January). Not bad for a rider so desperate for a break that she used to have herself paged to enhance her name recognition.
When I was down at Keeneland, I'd have the security announce: "Kris Prather to (Wayne) Lukas' barn' or "Kris Prather to Bob Baffert's barn,' she said. Then I'd meet someone and they'd say, "I've heard of you.' But they wouldn't know how.
They know now. Veteran trainer Wayne Bearden has won seven races so far in Turfway's winter/spring meet, all seven of them with Prather in the saddle. Since many of the nation's more accomplished riders spend the winter racing in Florida and Louisiana, a gifted apprentice often can flourish in colder climates.
It's been my experience that there aren't too many good riders here at Turfway, Bearden said. What I like about her is that she rides hard. She tries in all conditions. She's never been hurt, so she's pretty brave.
Prather disputes Bearden's analysis. If she appears fearless, she says, it is not because she has avoided injury but because she craves competition.
I've been rolled over on a horse, had surgery on my knee, busted my finger, she said, installing her contact lenses in Turfway's women's jockey quarters. I will take chances. It might be my youthful exuberance. When you're young, you see the hole and it's, "Bam, let's go.' A lot of times there will be a hole next to the rail. I'll go through it with my boot right over the rail.
She can be patient when circumstances require, but Prather refuses to be timid. She says women jockeys generally are not serious enough about the sport, fail to keep themselves in peak condition and ride a little weak.
I don't ride like a woman, she said.
Prather learned her trade from two of the top female jockeys: Julie Krone and Donna Barton Brothers. Her approach, however, more closely resembles that of a monk: No drugs, no dating, no drinking. She's still driving the same car she backed into a telephone pole. Her idea of indulgence is Jolly Rancher candy.
If you're going to do this, she said, you've got to be completely focused on your career.
Prather writes poetry and is a skilled artist some of her work is posted on her Web site but horses have been her single purpose almost since the day she started riding. Adrift at the University of Montana, she left school three years ago to take a menial job at a Lexington horse farm.
People ask me, "Are you stunned at where you are?' Prather said. Now that I know how difficult it is, I am. But everything I said I wanted to do when I was little has happened. Everything I ever wanted has been handed to me on a silver platter.
Seven months after Courageous Man crawled to a fifth-place finish at Churchill Downs, Prather has won 87 races. When she has won 100 races probably by month's end she will lose the weight advantage afforded apprentice riders.
She is unlikely, however, to lose her edge.
I want to win the Triple Crown, and I will, too, she said. I'm just waiting it out.
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