Approaching 4,000, it's been a great run

Jockey: Mario Pino, who came to Maryland 20 years ago looking for greater opportunity, is ready to become the 32nd rider to reach 4,000 wins.

January 16, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Even more remarkable than Mario Pino's five consecutive victories recently at Laurel Park was that this wasn't the first time the jockey had won five races in a row.

In the early 1980s Pino won five straight at Delaware Park. That may surprise bettors who have every right to wonder: How long has Pino been riding, anyway?

"When I tell people how long, they say, `What?' " Pino said. "They think I've been around maybe 10 years or so."

Pino has entered his third decade as a jockey. He rode his first race in 1978 when he was 17. Now 37, he has ridden long enough to have won more races in Maryland than any other jockey.

On a national level, only 32 jockeys have won more races (and only 31 have won 4,000 or more). After visiting the winner's circle once yesterday, Pino has won 3,931 -- 69 from the coveted 4,000.

"He's a very talented rider," said Jimmy Edwards, a former jockey and regional manager of the Jockeys' Guild. "He's also a class act, and everyone agrees. That's a combination that guarantees success."

Pete Dillon, an owner of Weather Vane, one of Pino's favorite mounts, agrees.

"He's kind of gentle, just a gentle man," Dillon said. "He's so good to the horses. He just has a sense about him of what a horse can do. He treats them all as if they belong to him, and he wants to get them around the track and home safely.

"At the same time, though, you don't win that many races without knowing something about race-riding."

Pino began learning early, riding show horses in Pennsylvania when he was 7 and visiting the Delaware Park backstretch with a friend when he barely a teen-ager.

"Everybody kept saying I'd be a good jockey," Pino said. "And I always knew I wanted an occupation that was outside. Even in school I knew I couldn't work behind a desk."

He worked summers walking horses at Delaware Park, and then, in the 10th grade, quit school to gallop horses for a friend at Belmont Park. Pino later earned his high-school equivalency diploma, but he never had to worry about looking for work indoors.

He rode his first race as an apprentice in late 1978 at Belmont Park. He didn't win until mid-January after moving to Maryland in search of greater opportunity.

"The second horse I rode [at Bowie] I won," Pino said. "The next day I won two. I kind of hit it off with Maryland right away."

Except for two brief excursions into New Jersey and New York, Pino has remained based in Maryland, riding few horses that are household names but earning a respectable living with hard-knocking, hard-trying mounts. His long list of stakes victories includes two Barbara Fritchie Handicaps and seven Maryland Million races, including the Classic in 1995 aboard Brilliant Patriot.

And Pino found more in Maryland than success. He found an extended racetrack family. Pino married Christina, a daughter of trainer Luigi Gino. Gino has another daughter married to jockey Mark Rosenthal, and a third to jockey Alberto Delgado.

Pino and his wife live in Ellicott City and have three daughters: Evana, 2, Victoria, 6, and Danielle, 10.

Seldom injured and always fit, Pino has no plans to retire.

"I've been lucky," he said. "I've never had a bad year, and I've been fortunate to ride for great people. I'm not looking to change a thing. I couldn't be any happier."

Pub Date: 1/16/99

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