Column: Road warrior Flavien Prat’s crazy 53 hours begins at Del Mar

Jockey Flavien Prat won the second race Friday during Del Mar's opening day.
Flavien Prat, aboard Flash of Genius, and trainer Peter Miller won the second race on Friday at Del Mar. The jockey is scheduled to ride 24 races in two states this weekend.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In-demand jockey races in Saturday’s $1 million Haskell before immediately returning


No, Flavien Prat’s weekend is not an audition for the television show “The Amazing Race.”

Or is it?

Perhaps the best jockey in horse racing began Friday’s opening day at Del Mar racetrack aboard a horse in the first race. And the second. And the third. And the fourth. And the fifth. And … well all 10 of them.

That would leave a few hours to shower, collect things and hustle to the airport for a 10:30 p.m. red eye aimed for New Jersey and Saturday’s $1 million Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. The big assignment comes aboard Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie, co-owned by Del Mar’s Bill Strauss.

Then he pivots right back to Del Mar, riding in eight more Sunday.

The insanity of it all: Twenty-four scheduled races … in 53 hours … traversing every U.S. time zone … twice.

This isn’t some road-warrior businessman, selling widgets from Newport Beach to Newark. This is someone riding 1,100-or-so pounds of horse flesh again and again, trying not to get sandwiched, run over or any other kind of treacherous possibility waiting at every starting gate.

This is someone catching dirt in the face, bouncing like a piston with burning quads while hovering over a horse time and again.

This is …

“The type of guy you want at the free-throw line with the game on the line,” said Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod Charlie’s trainer, by phone from New Jersey. “I think his demeanor, nothing bothers him.”

Not even traveling like a member of a circus, apparently.

There’s a reason so many people want Prat packing and unpacking so often. He’s the second most consistent winner this year, at 27 percent. He finishes in the money at a 65-percent clip, which is third in the U.S. He’s made more than $10.8 million in 2020 alone.

To trainers, he’s about as close to an ATM withdrawal as you can get.

“It’s nice, you know?” Prat said of being in demand. “It’s what we work for. To get the opportunity to be on some of the best horses in the country, I’m always grateful.”

It did not take long for Prat to rain down a few bucks on Friday. It rarely does.

In the second race, he initially finished second on Flash of Genius. A stewards’ inquiry, though, took down the winner and sent Prat to the winner’s circle, a place that seemingly serves as a second address.

He added a pair of seconds and one third by the time Del Mar’s opening day wrapped.

“He’s the best rider here. He’s one of the best in the country,” said Peter Miller, the trainer of Flash of Genius. “When you’re good, you’re in demand, you know? He’s a very hard worker. The amount of races or work, he doesn’t mind. I think he actually likes being that busy.

“He’s like, if I’m going to ride one race, I might as well ride 10.”

One of many reasons for Prat’s success? He’s versatile and can handle whatever a racetrack throws at him.

Or this weekend, racetracks — plural.

“He’s not a one-dimensional rider,” Miller said. “He can ride speed horses, he can come from off the pace, he rides the dirt and turf equally and he’s a great finisher.”

That list plops a jockey on a lot of airplanes.

The 28-year-old French rider used to be a California secret, piling up wins after the East Coast started counting sheep. Those days are long gone. Prat has won four of the last five riding titles at Del Mar, but pumped up his profile with a pair of Triple Crown wins since 2019.

Prat became a Kentucky Derby winner on Country House when stewards ruled that Maximum Security drifted and interfered with a horse. He won this May’s Preakness States aboard Rombauer. Since 2016, he’s collected three wins in the Breeders’ Cup, horse racing’s World Series.

“He’s the guy you want on your horse, no matter where you are,” O’Neill said. “The word’s definitely out.”

So, Prat races around the track before racing to the airport. He was set to land in New Jersey at 6:45 a.m.

Apparently, another skill for a top-flight jockey is the ability to sleep on a plane.

“As you can imagine, I’m not that big,” said Prat, 120 pounds of jockey gold. “So I can fit and make myself comfortable.”

Asked about whether the mental or physical part of his looney itinerary challenges more, Prat smiled.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll tell you at the end of the weekend. It depends how they run.”

Amazing race?

In Prat’s case, more like amazing — period.