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Pincay Sets Sights on 8,833 : Horse racing: Now that jockey has passed 8,000 victories, he says Shoemaker's record is within his reach.

September 15, 1993|DAVE DISTEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DEL MAR — For jockey Laffit Pincay, it has been business as usual here since he reached his milestone 8,000th victory.

But Bill Shoemaker, the only other rider to achieve 8,000 victories, is still out there on the horizon at 8,833.

It would seem almost unimaginable that Pincay, at 46, would be thinking in terms of surpassing Shoemaker. It seems so unlikely, in fact, that the idea was presented to Pincay in such a way as to allow him to laugh it off.

Instead, Pincay listened intently, seriously.

"No," he said. "The record's not out of reach, not if I keep on trying. I'll keep on going for two or three years and see what I'm doing. I'll have a much better feel then. I'll take it from there."

It's too early for another countdown to what may be the most magical number in thoroughbred racing, but that number--8,833--is exactly what Pincay has in mind.

The man stays firm at 113 pounds, as long as he eats like a canary. His trademark squinting eyes are still as sharp and alert as a sea gull's. Most important, his hands remain both soft and strong, the contradictory combination it takes to be as one with a horse.

"You have to be tough on yourself," he was saying. "You have to give up a lot of things. You have to give up having the good times. You have to be dedicated and have a lot of personal discipline."

A jockey, like boxers and real wrestlers, has to find a way to make himself stronger without gaining weight. Pounds are a curse. Pounds turn jocks into trainers--or exercise riders--before their time.

"I never thought I'd ride past 30 because of my weight," Pincay said. "It was a problem from the beginning, but it's easier to control now than it was before."

As with many jockeys, the lack of weight was the curse in Pincay's boyhood. His hero, as a boy in Panama, was Mickey Mantle, who had arms like a horse's neck and legs as fragile as a thoroughbred's.

"I was a Yankee fan and Mickey Mantle was my idol," Pincay said. "I loved to play baseball. That was what I wanted to do, but I was too small. I didn't want to be a student either, because I didn't like school."

Pincay's father was a jockey, though he was riding in Venezuela and separated from the family. Young Pincay was raised by his mother, who was less than pleased that her son was interested in following in his father's bootsteps.

"I made a deal with her," he said. "I told her I would go in the mornings to the racetrack and in the afternoons to school. That's what I did."

Pincay was 17 in 1964 when he rode his first winner . . . on his second mount. The horse's name was Huelen and the race was at Presidente Remon in Panama.

"It was very dark," he recalled. "It was the last race of the day and it was so dark I was afraid they were going to cancel it. I ended up winning the race and the horse paid $58 to win. It was one of the happiest moments of my life."

Laffit Pincay Jr.'s mother had a jockey on her hands, whether she liked it or not. Pincay became the leading jockey in Panama, but the Yankee fan had the U.S. circuit in mind. And if the Yankees weren't interested, thoroughbred owner Fred Hooper was.

"You want to meet Mr. Hooper?" a Panamanian friend asked.

Dumb question.

By 1966, after stops in Chicago and New York, Pincay found himself at Santa Anita for the 1966-67 winter meeting.

"After about two weeks, I was ready to go back to New York," he said. "California's the toughest place in the world to get mounts and win races."

He stayed, though, and found ways to get mounts and win races. California has been his base since then, and he has amassed more than $170 million in winnings. No other jockey--not even Shoemaker--has won more. Pincay has been the nation's leading rider seven times and an Eclipse Award winner five times. He has won 12 $1-million races.

Should anyone care to ask, Pincay is in the Racing Hall of Fame.

The best horse he has ever ridden?

"Affirmed," he said.

Affirmed tops a list that includes Perrault, Spend A Buck, Capote, Skywalker, Creme Fraiche, Conquistador Cielo and Swale. Pincay won the Kentucky Derby aboard Swale. He won the Belmont three times in a row.

"I rode some great ones but none were like him," Pincay said of Affirmed. "He was a smart horse, very, very calm. He knew I could feel that he knew what he was doing. He'd be ready to go from the moment we got into the gate. He broke in front in every race I rode him, but it was always like he was waiting to see what I wanted next. He'd be ready if I wanted to send him to the lead and he'd be ready if I wanted to take him back."

Pincay laughed.

"The only thing about Affirmed was that he'd get the lead and then he'd want to wait around and let someone catch up," he said. "I guess he wanted races to be competitive."

Affirmed didn't wait around too long. He and Pincay won seven consecutive stakes together.

Pincay's favorite horse, though, may be one who never won a stakes race, probably never ran in a stakes race. It was a horse he rode in Chicago in that first summer in the U.S.

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