Hard-charging Pino closes in on two milestone victories

The Baltimore Sun

On May 5, jockey Mario Pino is scheduled to ride in the first Kentucky Derby of his 28-year career. Around the same time, he should be securing sole possession of 15th place on the jockeys all-time career wins list at 5,894. And sometime after that, he should reach the 6,000 career wins milestone.

"I think reaching No. 15 on the all-time list is a big deal for me," said Pino, who is seven wins from passing Jerry Bailey. "To do it, I have to pass Bailey, a Hall of Fame rider who was riding well before I ever rode. To pass him - well, when I started riding I never thought I'd last that long."

Bailey, one of the sport's all-time great riders, said he is happy for the 45-year-old Pino's success.

"He wins races every day," Bailey said. "He'll continue to go up the charts. ...

"I never paid much attention to the wins numbers because I was never the kind of guy who was going to challenge the big final total. But that shouldn't detract from Mario's accomplishment."

Although Bailey may say he never counted his wins, the name of the game in horse racing is winning. And when Billy Castle became Pino's agent last year, his directive was clear.

"Mario's objective all along has been to get wins," Castle said. " ... As long as he stays healthy, he should reach No. 15 in less than two weeks and he should comfortably reach 6,000 before the end of the summer.

Pino's climb up the ranks isn't unlike that of Russell Baze, who last year became No. 1 and had 9,669 wins through Sunday. Baze, like Pino, chose to spend his career at a relatively small track, Bay Meadows Racecourse in San Mateo, Calif.

"It's a fair comparison," Bailey said. "Mario and Russell both show that just because a guy rides in New York or [Southern] California, that doesn't necessarily mean he's a better rider."

Pino, who is to ride Hard Spun, a Danzig colt, in the Kentucky Derby, said he has gotten this far through hard work.

"It is hard work, but it is also something I love to do," said Pino, who resides in Ellicott City.

"And now, all these once-in-a-lifetime things are happening. I've had two really good horses in two years," he said of Hard Spun and Sweetnorthernsaint, the latter of whom went to the Kentucky Derby last year without Pino because the jockey had to have surgery.

Michael Trombetta, who trains Sweetnorthernsaint, said for Pino to reach No. 15 on the wins list will be a huge accomplishment.

"It's a very big deal for him," Trombetta said. "And for him to get a shot at the Derby on a very competitive horse at this point in his career and just a year after missing out on Sweetnorthern- saint, well the chances of that is about 1,000 to 1."

Pino will be at Pimlico Race Course for the opening of the meet Thursday and then head to the Chicago area Saturday to ride Sweetnorthernsaint in the Grade III, $250,000 National Jockey Club Handicap.

When he returns, he'll continue to ride at Pimlico until moving his tack to Delaware Park for the summer. Castle said the jockey also will continue to ride at Pimlico when Delaware is dark.

As to where he would like to reach his milestones, Pino said he is torn.

"I was born in Delaware and I've spent most of my career riding in Maryland," he said. "It's a touchy subject. Either place is fine with me as long as I reach them."


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