09/12/2008 12:00AM

Pinto has a way with longshots


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Apprentice jockey Melanie Pinto has started to make the local fans sit up and take notice as she has knocked off nine winners in the last two weeks with several of them at attractive prices.

Last Sunday, Pinto brought four runners to the winner's circle, and the previous week she scored with five longshots: Harvey's Victor ($27), Brooking ($46.80), Strathmore ($21.20), Dudley's Lawyer ($33.90), and Spiritwood ($15).

Pinto, 27, arrived at Woodbine nine years ago as a teenage greenhorn who had never been around horses. She managed to talk her way into a hotwalker's job and has been working with Thoroughbreds ever since.

Pinto's parents had wanted her to stick with her schooling, but once their daughter found her love for horses, there was no turning back.

The hotwalker experience eventually turned into grooming horses, and then Pinto was lucky enough to fall under the wings of trainer Malcolm Pierce and his wife, Sally.

Pinto began to learn the art of riding Thoroughbreds, and she credits the patient Sally Pierce with teaching her the necessary skills to become a jockey.

"John Ross gave me my first opportunity to ride in a race last year," said Pinto. "It was late August and I remember it distinctly. Run Justin Run was my first Woodbine mount, and I finished dead last."

Following a second out-of-the-money ride at Woodbine, Pinto arrived at Fort Erie for her third lifetime start in early September 2007. She was booked to ride two horses on a Sunday card and one on Monday.

Climbing aboard Campari for trainer Josh Robillard in that Sunday's fifth race, she proceeded to stalk the leaders, angled to the rail for the drive, and scored her maiden win.

Three races later, her fourth lifetime ride came aboard More the Mari'er for trainer John DiMarco. She came from well off the pace, went outside runners, and ran them all down.

Pinto's single ride the following day was on trainer Noel Randall's longshot Pepee the Barker in the last race of the day. This time Pinto sent her horse to the lead, and went clear to score convincingly.

Three wins in three rides, and each one of them required different tactics. It was definitely an impressive Fort Erie debut.

Two weeks later at Woodbine, Silver Foxtrail gave Pinto her first win at that track and her fourth career victory. She decided to stop riding after that to preserve her apprentice allowance.

"I decided to hang up my tack after that fourth win," said Pinto. "I wanted to extend my apprenticeship as long as possible. I went to Florida to gallop horses last winter, and I will be heading to Payson Park after this season is over.

"Thankfully, my parents have now adapted to my love for the Thoroughbred and to my role as a jockey, and they are very supportive."

Pinto is planning to ride again at Fort Erie next year, and with her move of late to join the top 10 in the jockey standings with 22 wins she is looking forward to the remainder of the season and 2009.

Her return will be welcomed, especially by the longshot players, as her return on investment figure is one of the best at the track.

* Track owner Nordic Gaming Corp. and the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association have discussed and are generally in agreement on the proposed dates for the 2009 season as the submission deadline nears, said Fort Erie's general manager, Herb McGirr.