Jockey Mario Pino of Ellicott City received word yesterday that he will be replaced on Hard Spun, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness, by jockey Garrett Gomez in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
Pino had ridden the Danzig colt to a brilliant finish in the Derby, but faced some hard questions after the May 19 race at Pimlico Race Course, where he made an early move in the midst of a fast pace and then saw his horse weaken down the stretch.
Immediately after the Preakness, trainer Larry Jones said he was "concerned" about the move that put his horse in the lead at the three-quarter pole, when the fractions showed 1:09.80.
"The trouble was going to be holding the speed," Jones said at the time, but added he believed it was a move by C P West that had forced Pino's hand because the jockey didn't want to get caught on the inside.
Yesterday, Pino said he was not taken totally by surprise but maintained he had done what the race situation called for.
"Absolutely, I don't think I did anything wrong," Pino said of the decision in the Preakness, which was won by Curlin in record-tying time. "The whole race was fast and I thought my horse ran really well.
"It's horse racing. Things happen out of your control. I really don't have any second thoughts. [The race] was presented that way. It set up that way. Fast from start to finish."
Pino said he wishes Hard Spun and his connections "nothing but good luck.
After working Hard Spun at Delaware Park yesterday morning, Jones said: "Mario is a great rider and he is still going to ride a lot of my other horses."
Said Pino: "Life goes on. Everything is good."
In other Belmont news, trainer Doug O'Neill said Great Hunter will not run because a chip has been discovered in his right-front ankle.