Mario Pino sat at a table in the Pimlico Race Course press box Thursday afternoon, fielding questions from the media. He had done the same at Churchill Downs two weeks earlier.
But even though he has won almost 6,000 races and has been considered one of the top riders on the East Coast for some time, Pino isn’t used to all the attention. Welcome to the Triple Crown.
“He has talked more over the last two weeks than he talked in 27 years of riding,” said Maryland steward William Passmore, himself a former Maryland-based jockey who won more than 3,500 races in his career, many at Pimlico.
Despite his Maryland success, Pino will ride in only his third Preakness Stakes (gr. I) when he rides Hard Spun Saturday at Pimlico. And he doesn’t seem bothered. Last year on Preakness day, he rode at Delaware Park, where he’s a regular.
Pino has made a good living in Maryland, and indicated he’s happy he stayed there.
“It was comfortable here,” said Pino, who lives about 17 miles from Pimlico. “I’m making a good living, and it’s a great place to raise a family. It fit really nice to stay in Maryland and live life easy.”
Life with Hard Spun has gotten a bit more difficult, but not in a bad way. Pino is just not used to all the attention. Even the neighbor children have gotten into the act, with signs at the bus stop, balloons on his mailbox, and a medal from his daughter’s basketball team.
“Believe it or not, right then and there I felt pressure from the kids,” Pino said.
The rider said it’s “awesome coming home” to ride at a track where the fans “make me 8-5 when I should be 4-1. My neighbors and friends are into this now, too. They don’t know anything about racing but they’re coming to the Preakness.”
Pino was asked if he was concerned he might lose the mount on Hard Spun given the colt’s talent. He admitted it went through his mind, but he said trainer Larry Jones has confidence in him.
“That’s part of the game and part of the business,” Pino said of jockeys losing mounts on top horses. “All along I thought (Hard Spun) was something special. He kept getting better and better and I said, ‘I might end up losing the mount. If that happens, it happens. It’s not going to change my life losing a mount.’ ”
Clearly Jones does have confidence in Pino; Hard Spun never has had another rider in seven career starts. He won his first four races--two at Delaware, one at Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack, and the grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds--then finished fourth in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on a surface Jones said the colt didn’t handle.
Hard Spun then won the Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) on Polytrack at Turfway Park, and followed up with a second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Many observers noted Hard Spun ran a winning race; if Street Sense hadn’t had clear sailing on the far turn, the result could have been different.
“To get through all those horses was a gift from God,” Pino said of Street Sense’s trip in the Derby. “But my horse ran well. He did everything right. He ran a winning race, but he just got beat.”
Hard Spun appears to be heading into the Preakness in fine shape. Pino worked Hard Spun May 16 at Delaware Park and indicated he was pleased.
“We worked him a quarter-mile to pick his head up,” Pino said. “He worked nice and easy. It did give him a wake-up, so I think it was a good idea (on the part of Jones). He felt awesome.”