05/29/2016 4:04PM

Pino has vivid memories of meeting Mike Venezia

Coady Photography
Mario Pino, 54, was honored at Belmont Park Sunday as the 2016 winner of the Mike Venezia Memorial Award.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Mario Pino has ridden 40,885 mounts in a career that spans five decades. He remembers an encounter with another jockey at Belmont Park about a week before he rode his first race.

Someone introduced Pino to Mike Venezia, a regular on this circuit in the late 1970s and 1980s.

“He gave me these ‘dos and don’ts’ of riding first time,” Pino said. “I’m excited because it’s the first time I’m going to ride in my life. Then he said to me ‘Jock, if you need anything - a saddle, clothes, boots - you go to my locker and you get anything you want; what’s mine is yours.’ I remember that to this day and it’s been 39 years or more.”

Pino made those comments Sunday at Belmont Park after receiving the Mike Venezia Memorial Award, presented to jockeys who exemplify extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship. The award was established in the 1989, the year following Venezia’s death due to injuries suffered in a spill at Belmont.

“I remember the good things about him,” Pino said. “I didn’t know him well but I could see he did that to everybody. He touched everybody with the little things he did, which is hard to do sometimes, especially in this business.”

The Venezia Award is voted on by the fans. Pino, 54, was on the ballot along with Joe Bravo, Javier Castellano, Aaron Gryder, and Cornelio Velasquez.

“I didn’t think I was going to win it when I saw the competition,” Pino said. “I was surprised. But I’m honored and I’ll cherish that the rest of my life.”

Pino, who according to Equibase rode his first race in 1977, has ridden 6,713 winners in his career, placing him 10th all time. Among the best horses he has ridden was Hard Spun, runner-up in the 2007 Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness. Later that summer, he won the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga aboard Hard Spun. A year earlier, Pino won the Grade 1 Prioress at Belmont on Wildcat Bettie B.

Pino said he rides about five months a year and just started riding at Presque Isle Downs, where his six wins have him second in the standings at a meet that began on May 22. The Venezia Award is typically presented on Memorial Day, but the ceremony was moved up one day to accommodate Pino’s riding schedule.

“I’m almost what you call semi-retired,” Pino said. “I still like what I’m doing, I still got some fire, and I still want to pad some stats if I can do it.

“Some people think ‘why does he keep going?,’ ” Pino added. “There’s a reason why. Because you still feel like you can do it. When I’m on a horse I feel like 20 years ago; I don’t feel like I’m deteriorating. As long as I stay in shape and like what I’m doing I’ll just keep doing it.”