For Pino, second place in the Derby is no place at all

Posted: May 06, 2007

LOUISVILLE, KY. - "I'm so proud of you," his mother-in-law said as Mario Pino's wife and three daughters descended on Hard Spun's jockey.

The youngest, 10-year-old Ivana, already was crying as she wrapped her arms around her father in the tunnel just off the track at Churchill Downs.

"It's OK, baby, don't worry about it," Pino's wife, Cristina, said as the hug continued.

It's not always easy to understand that second place at the Kentucky Derby isn't like second anywhere else in this sport. Of course, Pino himself knew how close he was to history yesterday, with a three-length lead at the final turn, but the second-best horse down the long homestretch.

Even after Pino made a veteran move, cutting off the rail on Street Sense, the eventual winner turned past Hard Spun on the outside and led him down the lane.

"He was a little disappointed, but believe me, he should be proud as a peacock," trainer Larry Jones said of Pino, after Pino left him.

"He just about stole the race, and that where he's the best. I think he's the best on nursing the speed. Put him on a speedster and he can just nurse them and nurse them. He's the Iceman. He didn't ask him any too early. We got beat by a horse that can just burn this [Churchill Downs] stretch up."

Pino, in his first Kentucky Derby after 28 years of work and almost 5,800 victories, had said before the race that My Old Kentucky Home was going to hit him. Unlike the other jockeys, he already had his goggles on as the song played and his horse went out to the track from the paddock.

"My horse never gave up and that's what I'm proud of," Pino said afterward in that tunnel. "When he passed me, he didn't just fall apart. He was trying to even fight back."

Was he tired at all?

"No, no," Pino said. "He beat the third horse by many lengths [53/4] and I'm really surprised Street Sense went by him because when I asked my horse, he really got down to running. He's awesome. He makes things easy. This time, he moved up another notch."

Pino was well aware that there was much criticism of last Monday's workout, the quickest Derby-week workout in over a quarter-century (five furlongs in 57.60 seconds).

"I knew they said he went too fast," Pino said. "But I've worked a million horses. When he went past the wire [during the workout], I said, 'This horse can win the Derby.' "

He kind of just tweaked by me. He didn't really just fly by me. My horse, when he felt him there, he tried to surge with him a little bit. I'm just so proud of how he ran and did everything perfectly. Nobody was near him at the end but that horse."

Pino took the escalator up to the jockeys' room and saw the clerk outside the door.

"Man, he ran so great," Pino told the clerk. "It's a shame we couldn't beat that other horse."


Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.

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