Pincay: Rivalry keen, but respect can KO jockey fights

Sep 6, 2005 2:29 AM

Paul Kallai was a fighter, a real fighter, and he has the nose to prove it, sort of like an Italian squash that took a wrong turn. He was a jockey, too—still is—but he once fought professionally, a three-rounder in the 70s at the Spectrum, the old home of the Philadelphia Flyers, who battled their way to two Stanley Cups in the era when they gained notoriety as the Broad Street Bullies.

Jockeys, like most athletes, are known for keen competitiveness and not their fighting prowess, although some have supplanted their Liliputian likeness with pugnaciousness. No one wanted to mess with the late Don MacBeth, whose volatile personality was a fusion of Johns, McEnroe’s and Rocker’s. Bill Hartack wasn’t exactly Mr. Rogers. Of more recent vintage, Julie Krone, currently heavy with child, could be a little to the right of Roseanne when it came to female feistiness.

Kallai, rather than face race-fixing charges in a New Jersey scandal involving trainer Eugene Zeek and jockey Karl Korte among others, fled to his native Hungary, where, ever the macho man, he rides to this day into his 60s under Spartan conditions.

A recent post-race skirmish in the Del Mar jocks’ room between Corey Nakatani and Pat Valenzuela was spurred by a race-riding incident. Nakatani, a former high school wrestling ace, took a decision in a match that lasted three to four minutes, according to an eye witness.

One rider who drew a bye when it came to fisticuffs was Laffit Pincay Jr., the ever-popular Hall of Fame jockey who retired more than two years ago with a career record 9,530 victories. Whether it was respect accumulated during his run of nearly four decades or the pseudo image of fear from a sculpted body that Michelangelo would have deigned to carve, Pincay fought fewer rounds than Mike Tyson in his youth. Laffit was no dummy. He was not like the guy who did his Christmas shopping at the airport.

"Fights happen sometimes," the 58-year-old Pincay said. "There’s a lot of competition but I think the riders should know better. There’s so much tension trying to win races. Still, there can be long intervals with no fighting, then all of a sudden things flare up."

Values, culture and society seemed more civilized in Pincay’s prime, when he rode with fellow legends and heady thinkers Bill Shoemaker, Eddie Delahoussaye and Chris McCarron. "I think we respected each other more," Pincay said. "We might have gotten in each other’s way once in a while but it never escalated into a fight and I think that was due to respect more than anything else. Riders today have to learn to respect each other.

"There were times when I got into a fight that I didn’t mean to cause. That happens in the heat of the race but I never liked to fight. The times I did I can’t even remember why I did. Fortunately for me, fighting wasn’t my thing and I think the other riders respected me for my style and stature and weren’t eager to start anything. Sometimes you get mad and say something out of frustration because you got beat in a race and it really doesn’t have anything to do with the other rider. Sometimes you cause your own trouble and it costs you the race and you want to take it out on somebody else. The bottom line is, I don’t think it’s good to get into a fight."

Pincay and Valenzuela did square off "a long time ago, and after that I think we respected each other more," Pincay said. "There were some riders who were tough when I rode but I didn’t pay attention to that. Like I said, I never meant to fight. I hated to fight. I hate when I don’t get along with somebody. I don’t like the feeling of being somebody’s enemy. I always tried to get along with the guys."

The homestretch

Lost In The Fog, unbeaten in nine starts including the Grade I King’s Bishop on Aug. 27, is scheduled to have one race before the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Belmont Park on Oct. 29 and that will be in a six-furlong stake at Bay Meadows on Oct. 1, trainer Greg Gilchrist told me.

"We thought about the (Grade I) Ancient Title (at Oak Tree on Oct. 8) but that would leave only three weeks before the Breeders’ Cup and we’d have to van there and back before shipping to Belmont," Gilchrist said. "We’re not concerned about whether he runs in a graded race or whether it’s worth $500,000 or $100,000. We want a race that suits his schedule. It will be a good chance for Bay Meadows to pack the house that day and it serves as a good vehicle for us to get to the Breeders’ Cup."

”¡ Two days in Las Vegas at the palatial Bellagio was a treat to the senses of pleasure and palate. Its signature extravaganza, "O," however, was not limited to the House That Loot Built last Thursday when Del Mar produced its own "O" in the form of a $456.40 trifecta after Sujimoto, Ultimato and Recordado ran 1-2-3 in the sixth race.

”¡ Perhaps what happens here, stays here, but on my excursion it was a case of what was wagered here, stays here. I was honest with my wife when she asked me how I did. I told her I lost, but I admitted no wrongdoing.

I had to remove my shoes for airport security but at least I got them back. Not so with the shirt I lost at the race book. Bettors rarely receive nickels when paid off at race tracks, where the lowest denomination used is a dime, but in Vegas, race books pay off in nickels, not dimes. The reason, as one teller explained to this uninformed novice: nickel slots.

”¡ Regular gasoline was $2.68 a gallon in L.A. when I left for Vegas. When I returned two days later it was $2.90. Blame it on Katrina or terrorism, I blame it on greed.

”¡ Candid cardboard sign displayed by a homeless man in Vegas: "Need money for beer."