12/12/2003 12:00AM

Pino's rebound continues


NEW ORLEANS - After winning races at a clip of nearly 37 percent during the Delaware Park meet, which lasted from April through November, what can trainer Mike Pino do for an encore?

Hints of the answer began appearing this week at Fair Grounds, where Pino reeled off three wins in two days. The streak stands in stark contrast to the meet Pino had here last season, when he struggled to win races with overmatched horses.

"When I came here last year, it was when [owner] Rick Englander and I had separated," Pino said. "I really didn't have much stock, and we had a rough meet."

But in the short period between the end of Fair Grounds and the beginning of Delaware, Pino marshaled his forces - in a huge way. By Delaware's end, he had won 99 races with just 270 starters, an incredible sustained run.

Pino has fewer horses to run at Fair Grounds, and he's not likely to duplicate his Delaware performance, but after seeing his horses race Thursday and Friday, bettors are advised to take heed of Pino's entrants.

Thursday, Pino won the first race, a $50,000 maiden claimer, with a 2-year-old first-time starter named Honor Prayer, who was much the best. Later, he struck with Ghannam, who made his first-ever dirt start and, despite setting an exceptionally fast pace, led all the way winning an optional claiming route. Ghannam was claimed from Pino and Shadwell Stable for $40,000. Pino won Friday's fifth race, a grass claimer, with Erimos.

After spending the last several winters in New Orleans, Pino now has a greater sense of the horses that will suit Fair Grounds races. The rest of his stock has stayed behind on the East Coast.

"I brought horses I thought would fit the races, and maybe we'll be doing some claiming," said Pino.

If this barn gets rolling, it could alter the dynamics of day-to-day racing here.

Badge of Silver making strides in comeback

Badge of Silver continues to make steady progress in his comeback from a fractured cannon bone. Thursday, he worked a strong half-mile here in 48.20 seconds, the third-fastest work at the distance. It was Badge of Silver's second breeze since he resumed serious training.

His trainer, Ronny Werner, has no specific plans for Badge of Silver's return to racing, but he is extremely pleased with the way Badge of Silver has trained. As he did in a recent three-furlong work here, Badge of Silver broke off slowly, under a strong hold from his rider, and ran through the finish powerfully, galloping out with great energy.

"He didn't want to pull up," Werner said. "He's coming along so fast, I could probably jump him a furlong a work, but I don't know if I will. He may come back with another half."

* Slow Walkin' John, an overwhelming favorite, easily won the Kudzu Juvenile for Alabama-bred 2-year-olds here in Friday's second race.