03/15/2006 12:00AM

Laurel track report

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Jockey Mario Pino, acting upon the advice of his doctor, has reluctantly given up his mount on promising 3-year-old Sweetnorthernsaint.

Pino, 44, will miss four to six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a hernia on Wednesday. As a result, Pino, who had been the regular rider of Sweetnorthernsaint, will be replaced by Kent Desormeaux for Saturday's Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

Trainer Mike Trombetta said a number of riders were interested in riding Sweetnorthernsaint, a Kentucky Derby prospect who most recently scored a 10-length victory in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel. Trombetta said he chose Desormeaux because "he's a Hall of Famer with significant Triple Crown experience."

Pino admitted it was difficult to take time off now for elective surgery.

"I was trying to hold off having it but I had no choice, because my doctor wanted to do it now," said Pino, who rode two winners last Sunday to raise his career total to 5,668. "It doesn't bother me while riding, and the timing isn't the greatest because I am riding some decent horses right now."

Pino, Maryland's all-time leading rider, has ranked in the top five of the Maryland standings every year from 1979 through 2003.

"This sets me back a little in the quest for 6,000, but I have been fortunate injurywise," said Pino, who ranks third in the Laurel Park jockey standings with 33 winners at the winter meet. "I'll come back stronger and keep on going."

Three other Laurel regulars - Dyn Panell (fractured collarbone), Richard Monterrey (separated shoulder), and Walter Cullum (broken neck) - are also sidelined. All are expected back for the Pimlico spring meeting, which begins April 20.