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At 61, Laffit Pincay settles down to life without riding

Nov 19, 2007 5:22 AM

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

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