Laffit Pincay Jr. was pouring over available Kentucky Derby contenders with his agent recently, and lo and behold, he came up with the name of a live horse.
"I was talking with Bob (Meldahl) about good Derby horses and Millennium Wind was one horse I mentioned," said Pincay, who has ridden in 19 Derbies but none since 1994, when he finished 13th in a field of 14 aboard Valiant Nature. "I knew Chris (McCarron) might be tied up with another mount the day Millennium Wind is scheduled to run in the Blue Grass Stakes, and I thought the colt was worth riding. Two days later, Bob calls me and says, Guess what? Youre on Millennium Wind in the Blue Grass."
And, if Millennium Wind fares well in the Blue Grass Saturday, trainer David Hofmans plans to run in the Kentucky Derby on May 5, with Pincay returning to Churchill Downs to ride the $1.2 million colt, a half-brother to 1999 Derby winner Charismatic.
"Scott (McCarrons agent, Scott McClellan) asked Chris what he wanted to do (ride Millennium Wind or Bienamado in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap, also on Saturday) and it was Chris call," Hofmans said. "Pincay rides Millennium Wind in the Blue Grass and whoever rides him there, if we go on to the Kentucky Derby, will ride him in the Derby. Thats why I didnt tell Chris Id get some other rider for the Blue Grass, then put Chris back on for the Derby. I want the rider to be familiar with the horse."
The opportunity now exists for Pincay to ride a colt with an honest chance to win the 127th Run for the Roses, a race Pincay has won only once during his illustrious career. In 1984, Pincays 11th Derby, he rode Swale to a 3Â¼-length victory. Turns out Pincay had an opportunity to ride Charismatic in the Derby, but opted to keep a commitment on Event of the Year instead.
Pincays first Derby horse was Unconscious, who finished fifth in 1971. From 1979-90, in Pincays prime, he rode in 12 straight. But the 54-year-old jockey, racings career leader in victories with 9,109, has not ridden in the last six because he felt a serious contender was not available. It wasnt always thus.
"To tell you the truth, before I won my first Derby, I wanted to win that Derby so bad that I would ride anything," Pincay said. "I would go for anything, whether I thought it had a chance or not. But in the last few years, I only wanted to go if I thought I had a good chance to win. Otherwise, Id rather stay home. At least, staying home, when a lot of top riders go to the Derby, you get a chance to ride some good horses.
"I wouldnt mind riding Millennium Wind in the Derby. Ive been looking forward to going back, but with a nice horse, and Millennium Wind looks pretty good. Hes run in some good races, hes improving, so lets see what happens in the Blue Grass. I think hes got a very good chance. He ran a very good race in the Louisiana Derby. It was a rough race and that track (Fair Grounds) has a long, long stretch (1,346 feet. By comparison, Santa Anitas stretch is 900 feet)."
Pincay was impressed with Millennium Wind the first time he worked him. "He worked good," Pincay said. "Coming down the stretch, when I asked him, boy, he really took off. Hes a good horse."
Pincay would become the second-oldest jockey to win the Derby, behind his good friend, Bill Shoemaker, who was 56 when he won on Ferdinand in 1986.
After Pincay lost on his first 10 Derby mounts, he was haunted by the nagging thought that not winning the classic was something the fates had in store.
"For a while, I thought it wasnt (meant) for me to win a Derby," Pincay said. "There have been a lot of good riders who havent won the Derby and I thought I probably would be one of them. Finally, I won one, and thats what I wanted."
This years Derby would have a storybook ending if Pincay won it and then announced his retirement, going out on top like Michael Jordan.
But Pincay will provide no such fairytale finish.
"No, I wouldnt do that," Pincay said. "Im riding now because Im feeling well and Im riding some nice horses. Theres no reason for me to think about retiring, whether I win the Derby or not."
Not only wont he retire if he wins the Derby, Pincay now says that riding until he reaches 10,000 career wins is not out of the question.