It was just a minute or two before 6 p.m. Sunday evening when Bill Shoemaker, aboard Alphabatim, led the field of six out onto the track for the 47th running of the Hollywood Gold Cup.
What thoughts were going through his mind are unknown, but it must have occured to Shoemaker sometime Sunday that 30 years have slipped by since he first won the race aboard the redoubtable Swaps in 1956.
That was the first of seven Gold Cup victories for the 54-year-old Shoemaker. On Sunday, he came within a length and a half of making it eight.
As it was, it was Laffit Pincay, a relative youngster at 39, who reached that plateau first, winning his eighth Gold Cup with a perfectly executed ride aboard Super Diamond. Alphabatim finished second, Chris McCarron on Precisionist was third and Randy Romero brought Herat home fourth.
Even Shoemaker would not have denied Pincay his triumph. This has not been the best of years for racing's all-time career earnings leader, and the injury he suffered a few weeks ago to his right ankle has not helped matters, either.
Still, Pincay was in fine humor in the jockeys' room after the race, joking with reporters and forgeting--until he was asked about it--the pain in his ankle.
For Super Diamond, it was a come-from-behind victory, and there was a time along the backstretch where the 6-year-old gelding looked to be almost too far behind.
"For a while, he kind of lost interest in the race and I was a little worried that he was going to keep dropping back," Pincay said. "But I hit him a couple of times on the shoulder and he started picking it up again."
The next worry came in the stretch, where Pincay was faced with trying to figure out the best way to get past Herat on the rail and Precisionist. He decided to go between them, although there didn't appear to be much room for the maneuver.
"He had room to go through," Pincay said. "I thought about going around (Precisionist) but the inside was perfect for me. I would have had to pull him to the outside and he probably would have started lugging in or something. This way, he just went straight, which was much better for me."
Once Super Diamond was through, Herat and Precisionist had nothing left to catch him with and Alphabatim was able to cruise up on the outside and grab second place from Precisionist.
"He's more willing to run now (than two years ago)," Pincay said of Super Diamond. "He tries. He breaks and he tries to run. You can feel it. He wants to reach a little more."
As for his own health, Pincay said he's felt better.
"It's really got me crazy because some days the pain is a lot worse than some other days," he said. "Some days I feel like I'm going to start getting better and then the next day it's bad again. I have to put up with it because the pain is not going to go away if I just sit around. So I might as well try to ride. If I don't think I can help my horse, I won't ride, but as long as I think I can help the horse, I will.
"It doesn't bother me much when I'm riding. I feel it a little bit when I break from the gate, but after that it's fine. I concentrate on the race, I forget about whatever happens. But when I'm going to the gate and the pony is hitting me, that's really painful.
"Up to the other day I was very scared. I felt like the foot was going to come off at any time. That's the way I felt. But I talked to the doctor and the doctor said I can't get any worse. Don't worry, the foot's not going to come off. So I'm not scared now. I feel the pain, but I'm not scared."
Pincay, who had a less than auspicious Santa Anita meeting, said he feels the desire to do well again.
"I've been working a lot harder than I did at Santa Anita," he said. "There's no question about it. I feel like I want to compete again, I want to do good again. It's too bad that this (the ankle injury) happened because I really started doing really good. I wish this would have happened at Santa Anita."
Shoemaker, meanwhile, said Alphabatim had run a brave race, especially after dropping back early on. He was not sure he could have won, though.
"He'd have had a shot, but I don't know if he'd have beaten the winner," Shoemaker said. "The winner was kind of going along pretty good. He (Alphabatim) come running the last sixteenth, though. He's a tricky old dude to ride, that old horse. Kinda half smart, you know."
As for Romero, he thought he might have had a better chance had Precisionist not pushed Herat so hard through most of the early going.
"Chris' horse stayed on my butt and I never could shake him loose," Romero said. "I never could set my pace or nothing. He was running good the first quarter. He was nice and easy. Then I noticed that we picked it up at the half and we picked it up at the three-quarters. He just stayed on me. He never would give my horse a breather. My horse relaxed some but not enough to really help him out some.