11/07/2007 12:00AM

Pino joins 6,000-win club

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Jockey Mario Pino gets hoisted on the shoulders of jockey Ryan Fogelsonger and valet Daniel Orellena after winning his 6,000th race Wednesday at Laurel Park.
Mario Pino became just the 15th jockey in North American racing history to ride 6,000 winners when he guided Pass Play to a 2 3/4-length victory Wednesday in the seventh race at Laurel Park in Laurel, Md. Making the milestone particularly special for Pino was that the winning trainer was his brother Mike Pino.

The race could not have unfolded better for the Pinos, as Pass Play eased to the lead entering the backstretch of the one-mile turf allowance, pulled clear on the far turn, and was never threatened. As he crossed the wire, Pino gave several rousing waves of his whip. He then was greeted by dozens of friends, family members, and fellow jockeys in a joyous Laurel winner’s circle.

“I want to thank Maryland racing, the trainers and owners I rode for, and my family,” said Pino. “Trying to get this accomplishment done – it was great to win on my brother’s horse. Everything just came perfect.”

Pino made it 6,001 winners in the next race aboard Disappearing Ink, also trained by his brother.

The 6,000-win milestone punctuates what already has been the most successful season in Pino’s 29-year riding career. Into Wednesday, his mounts had earned more than $7.5 million this year, surpassing his former high of nearly $6.1 million, set last year. A major factor in his 2007 success was Hard Spun, one of the top horses in what turned out to be a sensational crop of 3-year-olds. Pino was aboard Hard Spun when the colt finished second in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Preakness, and second in the recent Breeders’ Cup Classic, after which the colt was retired.

“It’s almost like God gave me a gift with this horse, Hard Spun,” Pino said before the Derby, which was the first of his career. “I got hooked up with him last year and got lucky.”

Pino, 46, rode his first winner, Ed’s Desire, on Jan. 16, 1979, at the old Bowie Race Course in Maryland. According to Laurel officials, more than 4,800 of his wins have come in Maryland – easily the most on the circuit – where he has always made his home base as a jockey. He and his wife, Christina, and their three daughters live in the Baltimore suburb of Ellicott City. Although Pino has said he has been given offers to move elsewhere, he has always been deeply satisfied with being the big fish in a small pond, saying the suburban Maryland lifestyle works best for him and his family. Pino also has ridden on a regular basis at Delaware Park, about 90 minutes from his home.

Besides Pino, only two active jockeys have won more than 6,000 races, and both are in the Hall of Fame: Russell Baze, the all-time leader with 9,898 wins (into Wednesday), and Earlie Fires, with 6,434.

Edgar Prado, another longtime Maryland standout who has since moved to New York, is the only active jockey close to 6,000. Prado has won 5,955 races.

Pino had 5,998 victories going into the Wednesday card at Laurel. He recently lost a winner from Oct. 8 at Delaware when the horse, Phil the Brit, was disqualified for a medication violation. Pino won for the 5,999th time when he picked up the mount on Golden Shades ($4.20), an easy winner of the first race for owner Jack Murphy and trainer Mike Gorham. He then finished third in the fifth race and fifth in the sixth race before hitting the milestone with his fourth of five mounts on the card.

Mike Pino is a longtime trainer who on Saturday recorded the 1,000th victory of his career. He trains Pass Play for David Ross. Pass Play returned $8.80 to win.