Jockey Mario Pino finished next to last astride the favorite in Friday's ninth race at Bowie Race Course. And after dismounting, he was elated that he had finished the race at all.
Here's what happened: Pino's mount, Echappe, broke quickly from the gate to take a quarter-length lead between two rivals: Frozen Section, running along the rail, and Easy Greedy, on the outside.
But as the leaders neared the half-mile pole and Pino grabbed at Echappe's bridle, the filly began losing ground -- with good reason: a broken bit, the mouthpiece used to control a horse.
"It scared the hell out of me," Pino said. "I tried to be still. I didn't want to upset the horse."
Frozen Section surged to the lead as Echappe, unable to be steered, began drifting outside, taking Easy Greedy and jockey Ben Feliciano with her.
"I was going to jump off at the three-eighths pole," Pino said. "But I was going too fast, and there were six horses behind me."
Said Feliciano, "All of a sudden, his horse was trying to get out. Mario yelled to me that he was in trouble."
Feliciano responded. As Echappe veered toward the outside rail, Feliciano drew Easy Greedy abreast of the filly, preventing her from jumping the fence. For the final three-eighths of a mile, Feliciano guided Pino and Echappe like an outrider while the rest of the field thundered ahead.
"When a horse feels that you have no control over him, there's no telling what he'll do," Feliciano said. "That horse could have jumped the fence, or Mario might have had to jump off her. It's like driving a car with no brakes and no steering.
"There's no rule that says you have to help another rider when he's in trouble. It's horsemanship. It's one thing to hold another rider in the pocket. But when his life is in jeopardy, it's a different story."
Trainer Scott Regan has saddled 32 fewer horses than King Leatherbury, Maryland's perennial champion, but they share the victory lead at Bowie after the 20th day of the 36-day meet.
Regan has won 11 races with 25 starters (44 percent) and has finished third or better with 18 (72 percent). Leatherbury is 11 for 57 (19 percent).
Regan acknowledges his success but is realistic about a possible victory title.
"The numbers aren't there for us," he said. "I don't think we can do it. We'll need to win a dozen more races, and we'll probably only start 25 more horses. It's possible, but not really feasible."
Regardless of the outcome, this Bowie meeting has been eventful for Regan, 31. In the grandstand last week, he was provoked by a bettor and eventually slugged the man in the chest. Regan was fined $200 by the Maryland Racing Commission.
"I know I was wrong," Regan said. "(The racing commission) had to do it. I'm a licensee here, and I was involved in a public disturbance. It's too bad it happened. It won't happen again."