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Pincay Had 10,000 Reasons to Resume Riding

Jockey wanted to come back from broken neck to reach milestone for victories, but he will heed doctor's orders.

May 01, 2003|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

If Laffit Pincay had been given better news by his doctor this week, the world's winningest jockey would have tried to resume his career.

In the immediate aftermath of the spill March 1 in which he broke two bones in his neck, his family had made it clear that they wanted him to retire after some 39 years in the saddle and a record 9,530 victories.

"If the doctor had told me I could come back, I probably would have," he said from his Arcadia home Wednesday. "I would have been able to convince my wife [Jeanine].

"I wanted to come back. I wanted to get to 10,000 wins really bad. It was something I really wanted to do."

Instead, Pincay -- who was hurt when Trampus Too, the horse he was riding in the fifth race on the day of the Santa Anita Handicap, clipped the heels of Rainman's Request and fell -- was advised that his spine had not healed well enough for him to ride again. Those were the words he was hoping not to hear, but they were not unexpected.

"To be honest, I had prepared myself for it in some ways," he said. "The first day I was treated at Arcadia Methodist Hospital, the doctor there had said that he thought I should quit riding."

After having the halo cast he had been wearing for almost two months removed, Pincay was fitted with a neck brace that he will have to wear for the next six to eight weeks.

"Physically, I'm feeling pretty good," he said. "I'm trying to exercise and stay in good shape. I walked around the Rose Bowl with my wife [Tuesday]. After the brace comes off, I should be able to do just about anything I want to do except ride horses.

"I don't know what I'm going to do now. I really haven't given it much thought because I didn't think I would be retiring now. This kind of happened all of a sudden."

Financially secure, he indicated he doesn't have to work, but he would like to stay involved in racing in some fashion. Training, however, is not something he is considering.

Citing the Kentucky Derby win aboard Swale in 1984 and surpassing Bill Shoemaker as the sport's winningest rider with victory No. 8,834 on Dec. 10, 1999, at Hollywood Park as the high points of his career, Pincay said he will miss everything about his chosen profession.

"I loved to ride, I loved being at the track, trying to win a race, figuring the horses out and riding nice horses for great people," he said. "I still really enjoyed what I was doing and it's sad to have to give all that up.

"The complete routine was good for me. I was very comfortable with the diet I have now and my energy level was good. I enjoyed being in the jock's room. There are a lot of great guys there."

After he was injured, Pincay said he watched only the Florida Derby on March 15 and the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby on April 12. He avoided any local races. "It was too hard to watch," he said. "I would have felt like I wanted to be there."

In the last couple of days, however, accepting that his career is finished, he has started to watch races from around the country, including the Hollywood Park card on Wednesday.

He will be one of the millions who will be tuning into the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. There is little doubt which 3-year-old he will be pulling for.

Pincay recommended trainer Bob Baffert purchase Indian Express after the Utah-bred colt won his first two starts in the jockey's native Panama by a combined 21 1/2 lengths.

Baffert did buy the son of Indian Charlie for owner Phil Chess, and, after finishing fourth in the San Pedro Stakes in his U.S. debut on March 22, Indian Express nearly scored a shocking upset in the Santa Anita Derby two weeks later.

Ridden by Tyler Baze, he was beaten by a head by Buddy Gil at nearly 36-1. The mount that day would have been Pincay's had he not been injured and it would have been his 22nd ride in the Kentucky Derby.

"I'm rooting for him," he said. "I hope he wins for Baffert and it would put Panama in a good place."

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