By Dick Jerardi
Mike Pino won his first race on Aug. 13, 1983 at Atlantic City. He got win No. 2,000 at Parx on Jan. 30, 2023, nearly 40 years later.
We talked the day after he got win No. 1,999 with Pontiffany just 107 minutes before No. 2,000 with Holdtheflight.
It has been some journey for the man who grew up around horses in West Grove, Pa., learned the trade in Maryland under one of the masters, Richard Dutrow, got his best horse for a $14,500 claim just three years after he started (a horse, by the way, that got kidnapped, keep on reading) and may very well have trained the 2022 Parx Horse of the Year, a horse he claimed for $50,000 that sadly was found dead in his stall on a Sunday morning just a week after winning the Maryland Million Sprint.
Jockey Mario Pino, Mike’s brother, retired in 2021 with 7,001 winners. I can’t imagine there is another set of brothers in the 7,000/2,000 club. The total North American wins title goes to the Asussmen brothers – trainer Steve is closing fast on 10,000, jockey Cash won 923.
The third Pino brother, blacksmith Mark, is just as good in his field as Mike and Mario are and were at theirs.
“The blacksmiths aren’t really in the spotlight,” Mike said. “Not because he’s my brother, but I’d put him up there with the best around.”
It was Jan. 20, 1987 when Mike claimed Ten Keys for owner Charles Linhoss. The horse was still a maiden when Pino put up $14,500 of the owner’s money. After the claim, Ten Keys ran 50 times, with 21 wins, six graded stakes wins and earnings of nearly $1.2 million.
“He had a presence like a good horse,” Pino said.
Ten Keys actually began his career at Parx before racing mostly in Maryland. When the son of Sir Ivor Again started winning stakes, Pino took on him on the road – Suffolk Downs, Meadowlands, Bay Meadows, Santa Anita. Rockingham Park, Fair Grounds, Arlington Park, Churchill Downs, Keeneland – before his final race at Laurel on Oct. 21, 1990. All told, Ten Keys visited 15 race tracks.
“We were all over the place,” Pino said. “When we ran at Keeneland, they didn’t have a track announcer.”
But it was a visit to Bay Meadows in Northern California that was most memorable.
“We all went out to dinner and when we came back, (Ten Keys) was gone,” Pino said. “He was stolen.”
Seriously, the horse was kidnapped.
“I looked at every stall at Bay Meadows,” Pino remembered.
No Ten Keys.
After 24 hours, the horse was found at Pleasanton. To this day, Pino does not exactly know how the horse got there. He just knows he was thrilled to get him back.
Ten Keys was actually featured on the old Paul “and that’s the rest of the story” Harvey radio show. The Ten Keys story was good enough for Mike Pino. The rest of the story was a bit much.
There was the saga of Ten Keys back in the day and the saga of Fortheluvofbourbon in this day.
Pino claimed the horse for owner Dan Ryan on May 29, 2020 at Churchill Downs. It was smack in the middle of the pandemic when Ryan’s $50,000 was put into an account.
“I jumped into the car and drove down there,” Pino said. “They did the shake outside because you couldn’t go inside.”
There were two people in that shake and Pino won it.
The horse won twice right after the claim, had a solid 2021 and blew up in 2022, with seven wins from nine starts, four stakes wins and earnings of $361,680.
And then that Sunday morning, it was over.
“They said he had a twisted colon, but it was weird,” Pino said. “He ate all his food, stall was completely good and he was just laying there, no thrashing.”
After that, Pino said: “I walked around in a daze for a couple of weeks. He was such a good horse.”
It was a long way from win No. 1 to win No 2,000
“A lot of rough years,” Pino said.
Even with a wonderful claim like Ten Keys early in his career, Pino never got the big owners with the better horses. So, his rise has been slow and steady.
“I’m not the greatest promoter, probably my fault.” Pino said. “There were a lot of mornings I had to reach out and grab my collar and get myself out of bed.”
The numbers, however, are the numbers.
Pino remembers jockey Kendrick Carmouche was riding when he got win No. 1,000 as a trainer. He trained the horse that gave Carmouche his 1,000th win. He trained the winner when brother Mario won No. 6,000 at Laurel.
So many milestones. Such a great run.
Pino has 28 horses in the barn now. He lives near Fair Hill, Md. He rises at 3 a.m. for the trip to Parx. He gets a room near the track after days when he has horses in the later races. For 40 years now, day after day, horse after horse, race after race, Mike Pino has been consistent. He shows up and his horses show up.