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Retirement still hurts Pincay; future remains open

Aug 5, 2003 4:27 AM

Laffit Pincay Jr. is mulling his future.

And every time he mulls it, no matter how he colors it, it always has a dark and irrevocable ending: he can never ride again. And that’s what he must come to grips with.

Since his announced retirement on April 29, the 56-year-old racing legend has spent most of his time recovering from fractures in his neck suffered in a spill at Santa Anita on March 1. Physically, he is healing well. Emotionally, he is doing the best he can, but as he said in a moving public farewell at Hollywood Park on July 13, "I still have a fire in me that I cannot put out."

That "fire" has been stoked by more victories than any rider in history, 9,530, over a Hall of Fame career that lasted nearly four decades. Little wonder the embers still burn brightly.

"I’m doing a lot better," the popular but private Pincay said from his home in Arcadia last week. "I’m going to start doing therapy soon. Right now I’m just resting, taking it easy, walking in the mornings with my wife (Jeanine) and watching a lot of TV. I just stay home most of the time and relax."

Pincay’s future, meanwhile, is open, although he ruled out becoming a trainer. "I have nothing in mind yet," he said, "but I don’t think I want to train horses."

At the moment, he is content to take walks, watch TV and go to the movies.

"I did see ”˜Seabiscuit," Pincay said. "It was a very nice movie, very good. Gary (Stevens) did a good acting job (as George Woolf). I think he did great, especially since it was his first time. Everybody did well, but it was just unbelievable what Seabiscuit did, coming back from that injury (to his suspensory) to win the Santa Anita Handicap. That was really great."

Great, too, was Pincay’s parting speech at Hollywood Park. There were no tears until he mentioned Panama, his native country.

"I have a lot of friends there that root for me all the time," Pincay said. "Every time I go back there it brings back good memories and I just love my country. But also like I said, I’m very proud to be here. It was an opportunity for me to say how proud I am of Panama, and how proud I am to be in America, too, because I love this country also."

And this country, in particular its racing fans, loves Laffit, unequivocally. More than 21,000 people, twice the norm, showed up at Hollywood to bid goodbye to Pincay.

"The fans were great and it was just a great day," Pincay said. "All the riders spoke so well of me, and that was surprising, because I don’t think of myself in those terms. Considering that and the reaction of the fans, it was very, very nice. It really touched me."

Not that Pincay needed his sensitivities tweaked. Call it a period of adjustment, but since his untimely and unexpected separation from the game he loves five months ago, Pincay has been unable for the most part to watch races.

"No, not really," Pincay said when asked if he views racing live or on TV. "I watch very little. I saw the stake the other day (the Eddie Read from Del Mar on July 26) and the only reason I did was because my wife told me Alex (countryman and friend Alex Solis) was riding Redattore for (trainer Richard) Mandella, and Redattore was the horse I was scheduled to ride in the Kilroe Mile just before I was hurt at Santa Anita. She asked me if I wanted to watch it and I said yes. But after that, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to watch any more."

Pincay is entitled to his denial, if indeed that’s what it is. For someone who persevered with a near-intolerable diet for nearly 40 years devoting himself to a craft he honed into a masterpiece, a brief dalliance is understandable.

"I knew it would be tough," Pincay said of his retirement. "But right now, it hurts. When I saw that race at Del Mar, I just felt like I should have been there."