Friday, May 03, 2002

Resurgent Pincay seeks win at 55

Still going strong after 9,344 victories

By Neil Schmidt,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOUISVILLE — The story is the stuff of legend. Laffit Pincay Jr. was on a cross-country flight, and while those around him dug into their in-flight meals, the quiet jockey took a bag of peanuts and removed just one.

        He cut it into four tiny pieces, eating one. Thirty minutes later, he ate another fourth, doing the same each half-hour. That was lunch.

        It was discipline of the highest order, illustrating how the Panama native became racing's all-time winningest rider — 9,344 victories and counting. At 55, showing no signs of decline, he will attempt Saturday aboard 6-1 shot Medaglia d'Oro to become the oldest winner of the Kentucky Derby.

        “It's the best race in the world, and it's a special feeling just to ride in it,” he said.

        Last year, Pincay rode long shot Millennium Wind to an 11th-place finish in his first Derby since 1994. This is his first serious contender since the 1980s. The oldest-winner record he'll chase belongs to Bill Shoemaker, who was 54 when he won here with Ferdinand.

        “For about a half a second after I won the stake (San Felipe at Santa Anita), I thought about taking Laffit off and putting on a younger rider,” trainer Bobby Frankel said. “But then I said to myself, "No, they wouldn't have enough room in the Letters to the Editor column in the Racing Form beating my brains out if I did that.'”

        There is no questioning Pincay's resume. Only six-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey, trainer or owner. Winner of seven national riding titles. Elected to the Hall of Fame 27 years ago.

        But the age issue became a touchy subject. He finished in the top 10 on the national earnings list every year from 1966-89, then didn't crack the top 15 again until 2000. Trainers shied away from him because of his age, and Pincay admits he wasn't at his best.

        But a few years ago, he said, he began a new diet, and soon felt he was riding better.

        “I have a lot more energy now, and it shows by me winning,” he said. “I (had) felt very weak from not eating the right things, not doing the right things. I learned it's very important to be in good physical shape.”

        He said he used to flip — a jockey's term for vomiting — his dinners. That practice can leave a rider weak.

        Now he follows a strict daily routine:

        • Up at 5 a.m. to work out in the gym in his Los Angeles home. A breakfast of fruit. A trip to the track. A nap. A protein bar. A full card of races. A jog.

        • At dinner, he orders the usual — grilled fish, lettuce with lemon oil and vinegar, and a glass of water.

        “Get out your dictionary and look up the word "disciplined,'” Southern California trainer Bill Spawr told the Courier-Journal. “I'd be stunned if you found anything other than a picture of Laffit.”

        Pincay won his first race in 1964 and came to the United States in '66. He won seven Breeders' Cup races and three Belmonts, but the Derby became his Waterloo.

        He holds the record of 20 Derby mounts but has just one win. He broke through on his 11th try, with Swale in 1984. He has tried everything to win another Derby, including switching hotels each year and wearing his underwear inside out.

        “I'm glad, though, that I did win it once,” he said. “I don't have that pressure that I really have to win.”

        Pincay finished 12th on the earnings list last year, winning riding titles at three meets. Though he broke Shoemaker's previous all-time mark of 8,842 victories in 1999, he said he isn't eyeing retirement.

        “I love the game,” he said. “If I would (prefer) something else to do, I would do that. But right now I'm enjoying this.”


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