Pino, Hard Spun Kentucky-bound

Maryland jockey to get first Derby ride

April 13, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

Maryland jockey Mario Pino was sitting by his phone yesterday morning waiting impatiently for trainer Larry Jones to call from Churchill Downs and tell him whether Hard Spun, the 3-year-old Danzig colt, would be going to the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

"I was nervous," Pino said. "Then when the phone rang, I said, `Uh-oh!' But it was all good news. Larry was very happy. We're going to the Kentucky Derby."

It will be the first Derby for Pino in his 28-year career and also the first for Jones and Hard Spun's owner, Rick Porter, a Delaware car dealer.

Jones vanned Hard Spun to Churchill Downs from nearby Keeneland to make sure his prize runner liked the famous track's racing surface. The last time the horse ran on dirt, he finished fourth in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Ark. It was his only loss in six races. He rebounded with a 3 1/4 -length victory in the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park, which has a synthetic Polytrack surface.

If Hard Spun worked well, Jones said the horse would go to the Derby. If not, he'd skip Louisville and run in the Preakness.

"He worked over the track very well," Jones said yesterday after loading the horse and beginning his drive back to Keeneland. "And he recuperated well after. It didn't take anything out of him. If he had drank a bucket of water after running five-eighths of a mile, I would have been concerned about his ability to go a mile and a fourth. But he did it so easy, it should not be a major issue."

The clockers at Churchill Downs timed Hard Spun's work over six furlongs in 1 minute, 13.60 seconds. The horse was ridden by veteran jockey Larry Melancon, as Pino had riding commitments at Laurel Park.

"This was a good work," said Jones, a native Kentuckian who has run many horses at the famous Louisville racetrack, but never one in the Derby.

"I hope Hard Spun will give me a win I'll remember," he said.

Pino hopes so, too.

"I know it's still a long way off," Pino said. "And I know there is nothing I can do for myself until the race. I'm just excited to get a chance, and I appreciate the opportunity Larry and Mr. Porter have given me, to not just go to the Derby but to ride a nice horse with a chance to win. What can I say?"

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