At 61, Laffit Pincay settles down to life without riding

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Laffit Pincay Jr. will
be 61 on Dec. 29. If it were up to him, he’d still be riding. But he’s not.
A spill at Santa Anita on March 1, 2003, ended his life-long passion, and after
a career of nearly 40 years, 48,487 rides and 9,530 victories, Pincay was lucky
to walk away in one piece.

When his mount, Trampus Too,
clipped heels with Rainman’s Request, ridden by Tony Farina, and fell, Pincay
suffered a broken neck. Doctors eventually decided his spine was not stable
enough to allow him to ride again. Pincay announced his retirement on April 29,
2003.

Pincay has made the adjustment,
but it hasn’t been easy. A divorce was one of the major fences he had to
hurdle as he began life out of the saddle. He’s resigned to his fate now and
has stayed the course, remaining true to his pride and principles.

That’s why today, more than 4½
years since his last ride, Pincay Jr. endures as one of the most popular figures
in racing. His life-size bust stands near the walking ring at Santa Anita, and
his documentary DVD, “Laffit—All About Winning,”narrated by Kevin
Costner, has been widely received. Not that the game hasn’t changed since
Pincay last rode.

“Racing seemed to be in a
tailspin for a while there, and I don’t know if it’s picked up or not,”
said Pincay, a six-time Eclipse Award winner. “Since simulcasting began,
live crowds at the races have declined sharply and that’s disappointing, but
on big days, a lot of people still come out, and that always gave me a good
feeling when I was riding. But there are issues today for jockeys and trainers
and others that have to be resolved, so in some respects, things are pretty
rough. I’m not saying racing is dead, but it went into decline for a long time
because it seemed like nobody wanted to help. Racing should be in the spotlight,
just like other sports.

Despite dedicated efforts
from racing’s most resourceful and fervent PR people, barring the Kentucky
Derby or a scandal, its news seems destined to be forever relegated to the last
sports page, right next to the penile enhancement ads.

Pincay, who resorted to
extremes to maintain his riding weight during his career, remembered happier
times, when he was piloting Affirmed and John Henry, and competing against Bill
Shoemaker and Angel Cordero Jr. To this day, Pincay remains loyal to his riding
regimen, which was the stuff of legend. The most famous tale tells of D. Wayne
Lukas watching Laffit eat a solitary peanut during a cross-country flight, one
half at the beginning and the other at the end. Most of his career, Pincay
existed on 600 to 900 calories a day.

“I still watch myself,”
he said. “I don’t want to get heavy, so I’m very conscientious about my
diet. I feel good the way I am and I don’t eat any more than satisfies me. I
still stay away from sweets and desserts and things like that. I have learned to
avoid them and really don’t crave them like I used to, and that’s a big
help. I weigh about 127 right now.

 He didn’t hesitate when
asked about the best horse he ever rode. “Affirmed, definitely,”
Pincay said of the last Triple Crown winner, in 1978. “He would win a lot
of races by just a head, but he was a fighter. When he had position, he wouldn’t
let you by. There were races where he would be in front, but you could tell he
really wasn’t putting out. He was just kind of waiting.

 ”There were some
really tough riders, too, like Shoemaker, Cordero, Jorge Velasquez, Chris
McCarron, (Eddie) Delahoussaye, Braulio Baeza—all those guys were
tough, but there were so many good ones. For some reason, however, through the
years, certain guys got to do better than the others, and that’s why they’re
more prominent today.”

But none more so than Pincay,
who, thankfully is still here to recount racing’s resplendent history first
hand. For him, the future is now.

“I’m content with what I’m
doing,” he said, “traveling and working out and going to the races
occasionally. Maybe in the future I’ll do something else. I don’t know yet.
I’m still learning to settle, but I’m happy doing what I’m doing right
now. I like to go to the track with my friends when there’s a big race. People
are still very kind to me and they remember me. When I go to the track, they
always come up and say nice things, which I appreciate.”

Another measure of deep
fulfillment is Pincay’s 32-year-old son, Laffit III, a network-caliber talent
with matinee-idol good looks who is employed by HRTV and ESPN. His most recent
day in the sun came as the winners’ circle interviewer at the Breeders’ Cup
on Oct. 27.

Facades be damned, Pincay the
Elder did fess up to one regret.

“I just wish I would have
been able to eat a little more,” he said.

The homestretch

”¡
Trainer Jim Cassidy, a Bronx native and long-time Yankee fan, says their former
manager Joe Torre will resurrect his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I
think he’ll be fabulous,” Cassidy said. “I had no problem with Grady
Little (who resigned as Dodgers’ skipper), but I think Torre has a way of
making his players feel more comfortable. Believe me, the Dodgers will be in the
playoffs next year with Torre.”

”¡ Of more than 120 players
listed among NBA leaders in all categories, not one is from the Philadelphia
76ers.

”¡ Instead of chasing a Grand
Slam, Barry Bonds is being chased by a Grand Jury.

 

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