The milestones keep piling up for veteran jockey Mario Pino.
Granted, winning for the first time at Tampa Bay Downs doesn’t compare to three dozen graded-stakes victories; finishing second in the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic; receiving the 2013 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award for top career achievement and personal character, in a vote by his peers; or his numerous meeting riding titles.
But the 54-year-old Pino wore an ear-to-ear smile nonetheless after guiding 2-5 favorite Chiltern Street to a two-and-a-quarter length victory from Morvan Majid in the fourth race, a mile-and-a-sixteenth maiden special weight event on the turf.
Pino rode the regally-bred (Giant’s Causeway-Marylebone, by Unbridled’s Song) 3-year-old colt for owner Michael B. Tabor and trainer Wesley Ward. The winner’s time was 1:43.28. Today’s race was Chiltern Street’s fourth career start.
“He wants to get going right away, and we’ve been trying to get him to settle down in the mornings and lay back behind two or three horses,” said Pino, who lives in Boynton Beach, Fla., near Ward’s Palm Meadows Training Center base. “He broke today like he wanted the lead, but there was a little bit of speed and he got a good spot (racing fifth up the backstretch in the field of nine). As soon as he got in behind them he came off the bridle a little, so I saved him and when I tipped him out – whoosh! Just like we’ve been training him.”
Pino, who rides at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., during its spring-summer meeting, has lived in Boynton Beach the past three winters, working primarily for Ward. Previously, he had been an institution in Maryland and the mid-Atlantic region. Pino finished fourth in the Presque Isle Downs standings this year with 65 victories.
“I just go where (Ward) points me,” Pino said. “He’s been giving me a shot on a couple of his nice horses, and it keeps me busy until it’s time to go back” (to Presque Isle).
Pino said he has ridden between 6-to-8 races total at Tampa Bay Downs the last couple of years. “I’ve been around so long, the other jockeys figured I must have won a race here sometime,” he joked.
He enjoys riding at Oldsmar and has high words of praise for both track surfaces. “Every time I come here, the turf is perfect. There is no bouncing or banging, no horses stumbling,” he noted. “You see other places where they run on it a lot and wear it down, but it looks like it stays pretty strong here. It’s not cut up at all.
“The dirt track is a sandy surface, and you have to be a fit horse to win, I think. It’s not as fast as Gulfstream, but it is still good to ride on, good and even.”
Chiltern Street’s victory was No. 6,706 in the career of Pino, who has ridden winners in five decades. He is 10th on the all-time North American list and third among active jockeys (behind all-time leader Russell Baze and Edgar Prado).
“I’m going to ride as long as I can. I enjoy it, so if I can still be effective, I want to keep doing it,” Pino said. “And if I get to 7,000 winners, it will be a touchdown.”
The victory by Chiltern Street came one race after Ward’s father, trainer Dennis Ward, saddled 3-year-old gelding Rambam to win the third race for owner Hot Scot Racing Stables. Jose Ferrer was the winning jockey.
The second race was a mile-and-a-sixteenth maiden special weight on the turf for fillies and mares. Kissed by a Rose, a 4-year-old, won by three-quarters of a length from Sashay for owner Angela Blackwell and trainer Gerald Aschinger. Ademar Santos rode the winner, which had finished second in four of nine previous starts.
Santos added the eighth race to his ledger with an exciting come-from-behind rally aboard Zafiro Azul to nip Leave Er B at the wire. The winning 4-year-old filly is owned by Standard Racing and trained by Derek Ryan.
Lebron returns to fold. Victor Lebron rejoined the Tampa Bay Downs jockey colony today after driving from Louisville, Ky., on Monday following the Churchill Downs fall meeting. Lebron, who finished with seven victories during the month-long meeting, posted a third-place finish in Friday’s Grade I Clark Handicap aboard 88-1 shot Looks to Spare, behind Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Effinex and Hoppertunity.
The 31-year-old Lebron achieved an even bigger milestone Nov. 9 when his wife Ruth gave birth to twin boys, Jayden and Akilies. The couple has four daughters, ranging in age from 3-11.
“It makes you work harder, definitely,” Lebron said of the blessed event. “It makes me appreciate everything else in life. With my family growing bigger, I know I have to keep working hard and stay determined.”
Lebron finished sixth in the 2014-2015 Tampa Bay Downs standings with 33 victories, including a triumph in stakes-record time aboard Irish Jasper in the seven-furlong Gasparilla Stakes for owner-trainer Derek Ryan.
Lebron won the ninth race in his first day back at Oldsmar on 4-year-old filly U and Tequila for owner Ups and Downs Racing and trainer Monte Thomas.
Upcoming events. Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:32 p.m. On Saturday, fans and newcomers are invited to attend the “Buffet Breakfast at the Downs” from 8-10 a.m. beneath the Trackside Picnic Pavilion tent. The cost is $8, which includes that day’s racing program and a copy of Peter Mallett’s book, “Betting Tampa Bay Downs 2015-2016: An Up-to-Date Guide for Bettors Handicapping the Oldsmar Oval.”
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25, for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.