Interesting that two jockeys, Mario Pino and Garrett Gomez, were in the news this week for positive accomplishments. Interesting, too, that both were roundly criticized for their riding efforts on the same horse during this years Triple Crown.

In the case of Pino, who became the 15th jockey in the sports history to win 6,000 career races, we still dont think the knocks were completely justified.

Riding speed horses correctly is easier said than done. A delicate balance exists between rating a horse so that it is comfortably relaxed and rating one into submission, where the jockey at once is fighting his mount and allowing the competition into the race.

We can recall three that were absolutely great at this. Each is enshrined in the Hall of Fame: Earlie Fires in his prime was a dominant speed rider. And throughout their careers, Bob Ussery and Pat Day were peerless.

Fires stole more races on the engine than most jockeys win doing anything. Ussery could open long leads effectively, too, but a typical chart for one of his speedy winners would look something like: 1-hd, 1-hf, 1-1 and 1-2. Day, of course, routinely put his horse and the rest of the field to sleep. No one weve ever seen was better at saving horse, often allowing rivals to take the lead into the stretch before coming again to nail that rival at the wire.

Whenever we see Pino, he appears to combine the attributes of the three Hall of Famers. Position conscious, he puts his mounts in position to win. We thought he was victimized by circumstances in the Preakness, forced to move away from a rival bent on pressuring him at a crucial stage of the race. No one rode Hard Spun better, unless it was Larry Jones during training hours.

It is no small irony that Gomez, who will surpass Jerry Baileys all-time single-season mark of 70 stakes winners with one more stakes victory, gave one of the poorest performances ever seen in a Triple Crown race when replacing Pino on Hard Spun in the Belmont Stakes. In trying to restrain him, Gomez absolutely choked the life out of the colt.

Of course, Gomez is better than that, much better, but he simply brain-locked and robbed the colts best chance to pull off an upset. It happens. The fact that Hard Spun is questionable at 12 furlongs is and was distinctly beside the point.

Congratulations to Pino for joining the celebrated company of the Pincays and Corderos and Shoemakers and Bazes. And the best of luck to Gomez, two stakes wins shy of trumping the accomplishment of the smartest rider who ever lived.