Laffit Pincay Jr. is back. Not back riding, unfortunately, but back in spirit.
The world’s winningest jockey with 9,530 victories hasn’t exactly been moping around since injuries from a spill on March 1, 2003, forced him to retire after nearly four decades in the saddle.
But he hasn’t been doing cartwheels, either. He hasn’t been doing much of anything, actually: spending time with his family, working out, watching TV, going to the movies.
For a man whose life was riding horses, a sedentary retirement has been a major adjustment. Now, however, the 57-year-old Pincay has accepted his fate and one day soon may tackle a new challenge, as long as it’s competitive.
"If I come back (into racing) it will have something to do with horses," said Pincay, one of the most popular jockeys of all time. "I don’t want to do anything else. I want to do something I can really put my heart into, not something I don’t enjoy.
"It has to be something where I can compete but I don’t know what that would be other than training or being a jockey’s agent or something like that."
Whatever he decides to do and whenever it is, Pincay is at peace with his destiny these days and that’s good to see. Soon after he came to realize he would never ride again, denial reared its ugly head. Pincay disassociated himself from the game he loved. He would not attend the races. He would not watch them on TV.
But now it’s the dawn of a new day. Recently at Santa Anita one morning, Pincay mingled and recounted old times with his countless friends. He displayed a virgin innocence, a child-like happiness. After a year, he had escaped the vacuum of despair.
"I accept it now that I won’t be riding anymore," Pincay said. "When I watch the races, instead of feeling negative about it, I enjoy them."
Not that he doesn’t maintain the regimen that kept him at the top of his profession for nearly 40 years. When he rode, he tacked 117 pounds despite a body that cried out at Mother Nature to weigh 20 pounds more.
"I still try to keep in shape and get up early in the morning and go to the gym," Pincay said. "My wife (Jeanine) and I go up the hills of the mountains once a week. I still watch my weight and my condition because I’ve been doing it for so many years that I’m used to it. I don’t want to put anything fattening in my body. I feel great the way I am. I weigh about 130 pounds. I go between 130 and 132 pounds but it’s all muscle. When I look at myself in the mirror I say, ”˜Gosh, where is the weight?’ because my body looks almost the same as when I was riding."
And now, again, so does his spirit.
THE HOMESTRETCH: Thirty days has September, April, June and Nakatani—Corey Nakatani, that is. The 33-year-old jockey was handed the stiffest suspension this side of Eddie Arcaro—30 days—by Santa Anita’s stewards for allowing his mount, Mister Cosmi, to drift out near the half-mile pole and bump Terrifying, ridden by Javier Santiago, in the sixth race on March 6. The ban runs from March 18 through April 28. Terrifying stumbled and unseated Santiago, who miraculously was not injured. The 26-year-old native of Puerto Rico came back two days later to win the $600,000 Louisiana Derby aboard Wimbledon. One insider who witnessed the mishap called Nakatani’s actions "malicious." Apparently the stewards agreed. Their ruling said that Nakatani committed "a wanton act that resulted in a racing accident." The suspension bars Nakatani from being on the grounds at Santa Anita and prohibits him from riding in designated races. Of course, he plans to appeal.
...I probably knew Chuck DiRocco longer than most of his friends. We first crossed paths during the golden era of racing in New Jersey as green kids, then went our separate ways for years after that, and hooked up for a cup of coffee down the homestretch. While we weren’t fast friends, we knew each other from long ago, and as such there existed a special allegiance that bonds two men who shared memories no one else had. That comes with survival, and Chuck was a survivor, and a successful one at that. Rest in peace, Chuck. You deserve it. May you roll only sevens.