The Baltimore Sun

Cristina Pino was waiting by the phone when her husband, Mario, called early yesterday afternoon to tell her he had won his first race at Laurel Park and wanted her to pick up their daughters from their Ellicott City schools and head to the racetrack.

History was on the horizon.

A milestone 6,000th victory was just a win away.

"Because it's horse racing, you don't know if it's going to happen," Cristina Pino said. "But I got them from school, and I am so happy, just so happy to see how happy he is. I love him so, and he wanted to do it so badly. And he wanted to do it here."

The pressure was building when Pino took Pass Play, a 6-year-old trained by Pino's brother Michael, into the gate for the seventh race. Pino had already had two disappointments, a third in the fifth and out of the money in the sixth.

But Pino had a feeling about Pass Play. He positioned the horse just off the lead in third at the break and then took the lead along the rail on the backstretch. He still had it as they rounded the turn for home.

"When we got to the seven-eighths pole, I knew no one was coming," Pino said. "This race was such a big one to me. It was more pressure than riding [Triple Crown horse] Hard Spun. I told my wife I felt the pressure with these last two winners. I felt butterflies in the Derby, but nothing like this. The pressure was mounting. Once I hit that wire, all the emotion just busted out of me."

Pino, 46, had been trying for a week to wrap up the final two victories necessary to become the 15th jockey in North American history to win 6,000 races. In addition to the victory yesterday aboard Pass Play, who paid $8.80 to win, Pino had a maiden win in the first on Golden Shades ($4.20) and a triumph in the eighth with his brother's Disappearing Ink ($8.80) for No. 6,0001.

Pino has ridden 36,606 horses and more than 80 percent of his victories, 4,830 of them, have come at Maryland tracks, including the first winner he ever rode - at Bowie Race Course in January 1979.

The wins in Maryland makes him the record holder at Maryland tracks, with 2,642 at Laurel Park, 1,771 at Pimlico Race Course, 404 at Bowie and 13 at Timonium.

When he won No. 6,000 yesterday, the 28-year veteran was overwhelmed by the winner's circle celebration. His family was there, the jockey colony showed up with a banner and jockeys Abel Castellano and Ryan Fogelsonger lifted him on their shoulders for a congratulatory ride.

"It's great to see this," jockey Luis Garcia said. "He's one of the best riders we have, and he's living every rider's dream. I hope he gets 7,000."

Trainer King Leatherbury, the third-winningest trainer in North American history, came to shake his hand, and trainer Larry Jones, who chose him to ride Hard Spun, called with congratulations.

"Consistency is what makes Pino special," Leatherbury said. "To be able to last all these years and steadily knock off the wins little by little is more difficult than it seems."

Maryland Jockey Club president Lou Raffetto handed the jockey a Waterford Crystal trophy to mark the occasion.

"Mario has spent more than 95 percent of his career in Maryland, so winning it here not only means a lot to us, but to him," Raffetto said. "He's reached a milestone accomplished by very few jockeys, and we're proud he's part of Maryland horse racing history."

Michael Pino, who won his 1,000th career race with Mario riding Saturday, hugged his brother and then stood back and enjoyed the scene.

"I'm just proud of him," said Michael Pino, 45. "He has always been a winner, no matter what we did as kids. I always knew he was born to be a jockey, but he was always a winner at everything.

"It's nice it was my horse today. But it was really all him. I told him the horse didn't like the inside, but it didn't matter, because Mario just dragged him right to the front. Mario's strength has always been his good sense of pace and his ability to read the horse he has."

Mario Pino went 1-for-10 at Delaware Park over the weekend and returned to Maryland yesterday. After crossing the finish line in the seventh race, tears streamed from his eyes as he yelled with joy.

"Looking down the list of all the Hall of Famers in front of me and even behind me, it just proves what I've always said, when you show up every day, work hard and do your best, something good can happen," he said. "You can never count on winning, but today, with my wife and the kids here and winning on my brother's horse, God made it just perfect."


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