09/14/2007 12:00AM

Pinto rides her 1st, 2nd, and 3rd winners

EmailFORT ERIE, Ontario – Apprentice Melanie Pinto arrived here last weekend for her first ride ever over the Fort Erie dirt surface with a 10-pound "bug" allowance, no whip, and no wins in the record books.

Her experience in race riding was a couple of runs at Woodbine. She had three mounts scheduled at the Fort, two on Sunday and one on Monday, as she moved her first Fort Erie mount, Campari, into the starting gate for race 5 Sunday. Keeping the leader in her sights, she asked for run from the three-path in the stretch, and got her first win.

"We were never that far out of it," said Pinto. "He picked it up on the turn, kept going, and carried me home. "

Her next mount, More the Mari'er in race 8, settled off the pace, angled out, and bid five-wide turning for home - and ran them all down.

Pinto has worked for trainer Mac Benson at Woodbine for more than a year, and he had some comments on her ability.

"She arrives at the barn early, and she puts in 110 percent in everything she does," Benson said. "She looks really good on a horse in the morning and has improved since being with us. I think if she gets a few breaks, she'll have a tremendous chance to make it."

The "breaks" continued for Pinto on Monday as she took the speedy runner Pepee the Barker to the post in race 10, and proceeded to win her third in a row.

Sent off at almost 10-1, Pepee the Barker, on past form, looked like a sprinter who would not last going 6o1/2 furlongs.

But Pinto vied for the lead, put the opposition away, and then romped clear to the wire.

Benson might just have found something special.

Save-the-track town meeting

A town hall meeting held Tuesday evening in Fort Erie brought an overflow crowd. The presentation to Mayor Douglas G. Martin and the Town Council was part of the "Save Our Track Campaign" that has been gaining momentum with every passing day.

It was announced that the requirement for racing dates at the Fort Erie track for the 2008 season has been postponed until Oct. 31 as the uncertainty regarding funding for next year continues.

The funding crisis is directly related to diminishing revenue from the Fort Erie slots casino, which has seen a substantial drop over recent years due in good part to new competition south of the border and the decline in tourism from the United States.

At the meeting, concerns facing the town were raised at the possibility of closing the track, which would result in the direct loss of some 2,500 jobs to the community.

A petition to the provincial government to keep the track open was placed on the agenda, and the resolution presented to the Town Council was passed unanimously.