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Calling It a ‘Sad Day,’ Pincay Hits Finish Line

Times Staff Writer

Laffit Pincay, who won 9,530 races, more than any other jockey, in a career that started four decades ago in his native Panama, announced his retirement Tuesday, two months after he was seriously injured in a near-fatal spill at Santa Anita.

Pincay, who has been wearing a halo cast since his mount clipped the heels of another horse in a 6 1/2-furlong race down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course on March 1, broke his neck and was advised this week by his doctor that his spine had not healed sufficiently for him to ride again.

“It’s a sad day for me,” Pincay said. “The doctor recommended that I never ride again. It’s a sad day for me and [wife] Jeanine. But we always prepared for the worst.”

At 56, Pincay was one of the oldest jockeys competing at major tracks. His career was going in the wrong direction several years ago, when Southern California trainers chose younger riders over him, but after Pincay broke Bill Shoemaker’s record of 8,833 victories in 1999, his career took off again. Since then, he led seven of 16 meets at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita and Del Mar, and when he was injured, he ranked second in the Santa Anita standings.

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Neil Papiano, Pincay’s attorney, said Tuesday that lawsuits would be filed against several parties, among them the medical staff at Santa Anita the day Pincay was injured, and Tony Farina, a jockey who rode another horse in the race. Farina, who was suspended for seven days by the Santa Anita stewards for not properly controlling his horse, will be riding Brancusi in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, a race that Pincay won with Swale in 1984. Pincay finished fourth with Medaglia d’Oro in last year’s Derby, but starting in 1995, he went six consecutive years without a mount in the race.

Pincay rode horses that earned $237 million in 48,486 races. His family was said to be in favor of his retirement.

“Laffit wanted to continue, but the doctor told him to give it up,” Papiano said. “He’s just not in condition to ride anymore. It would be too dangerous for him. He had a goal of reaching 10,000 wins if he had been able to keep going.”

On the track, Pincay’s calling card was brute strength. He was one of the strongest jockeys and one of the best finishers. Off the track, he was known for a dietary discipline that enabled him to maintain a riding weight of 117 pounds or less.

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Pincay was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame in 1975.

“He’s been an inspiration for all of us,” said Gary Stevens, who competed against Pincay daily in California and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. “He was the ultimate professional. He showed up every day to give 100%. I didn’t see him tailing off at all as time went on. He was still the most feared if you hooked up with him for the final eighth of a mile.”

Another Hall of Fame jockey, Eddie Delahoussaye, retired in January after suffering a neck injury last year, and Hall of Famer Chris McCarron retired about 10 months ago. The loss of those three riders leaves a gaping hole in the jockey colony in Southern California.

“I’m happy and sad for Laffit at the same time,” Delahoussaye said. “He’s doing the smart thing. If he kept at it, he could get whacked again and maybe become a paraplegic. I’d like to continue riding too, but after a while you just have to think about your family. I’m glad Laffit listened to his doctor, like I did.”

Shoemaker, who trained horses after his retirement, is a quadriplegic, the result of an automobile accident.

“It’s better to be healthy than keep riding,” Shoemaker said. “I hate to see Laffit go out under these conditions, but he’s made the right move. He didn’t just stack up with the best of them, he was better than any of them. He was very strong and a tough competitor. He was so strong that he could get horses to do what he wanted them to do most of the time.”

Pat Day and Russell Baze have the best chances to pass Pincay in victories. Day, 49, had 8,455 through Monday. Unlike Pincay, he is a natural lightweight who doesn’t have to battle the scales and has had a career virtually devoid of serious injuries. Baze, 44, dominates the Northern California circuit and has won 8,223 races. He has won more than 400 races 10 times in the last 11 years.

The son of a jockey, Pincay was an unpaid stable hand in Panama who learned riding as he worked at the barns. He was 17 when he won his first race there. With 448 wins to his credit, he came to the U.S. to ride under contract to Fred Hooper, a prominent owner of horses, and won with his first mount, at Arlington Park in suburban Chicago in 1966.

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Pincay won the Eclipse Award five times and led the country in purses seven times. He has said that Affirmed and Swale were the best horses he ever rode. Steve Cauthen rode Affirmed to a Triple Crown sweep in 1978, but eventually Pincay took over and rode the horse in his last seven starts. Pincay finished first all 10 times he rode Affirmed, although they lost one win when they were disqualified, in favor of Alydar, in the 1978 Travers at Saratoga.

Swale was the last of Pincay’s three consecutive Belmont winners, all trained by Woody Stephens. The others were Conquistador Cielo in 1982 and Caveat in 1983.

He won seven Breeders’ Cup races, the richest the Classic with Skywalker at Santa Anita in 1986. He won four races with John Henry in 1981, the year John Henry was voted horse of the year.

“I’m very grateful to lots of people who helped me with my career,” Pincay said Tuesday. “I want to thank the fans for their cards and well wishes, and all my friends for all their support.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Winners’ Circle

All-time winningest jockeys:

*--* JOCKEY CAREER WINS 1. Laffit Pincay 1964-2003 9,530 2. Bill Shoemaker 1949-1990 8,833 3. Pat Day 1973-present 8,455 4. Russell Baze 1974-present 8,223 5. David Gall 1956-1999 7,396

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*--*

NOTABLE PINCAY

* Only six-time Eclipse Award winner.

* Won 13 races worth $1 million or more.

* Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1975.

* Career earnings of $237,417,045.

The Pincay File

Facts and figures on Laffit Pincay, who retired Tuesday on the advice of doctors:

* Born: In Panama City, Panama, on Dec. 29, 1946.

* Age: 56.

* Height: 5 feet 1.

* Weight: 113 pounds; 117 with riding gear.

* Family: Wife, Jeanine; three children: Lisa, Laffit III, Jean-Laffit.

* Career-ending injury: Neck injury suffered in a spill in the fifth race March 1 at Santa Anita.

* All-time winningest jockey: 9,530 wins.

* Hall of Fame: Elected in 1975.

* Meet riding titles: Won 44, including 41 on the Southern California circuit.

* Eclipse awards: Won five as the nation’s outstanding jockey and a sixth in 1999 for “singular achievement” in surpassing Bill Shoemaker’s victory mark.

* $1-million races: 13 victories, including seven in the Breeders’ Cup.

Milestones

Laffit Pincay’s victory milestones:

* 9,000th win: Oct. 28, 2000, on Chichim at Santa Anita.

* 8,834th win (broke Shoemaker’s record): Dec. 10, 1999, on Irish Nip at Hollywood Park.

* 8,833rd win (tied Shoemaker’s record): Dec. 9, 1999, on I Be Casual at

Hollywood Park.

* 8,500th win: Jan. 2, 1997, on Tacomolly at Santa Anita.

* 8,000th win: Aug. 29, 1993, on El Toreo at Del Mar.

* 7,000th win: Nov. 9, 1988, on Phone Bid at Hollywood Park.

* 6,033rd win: March 30, 1985, on Sovereignty at Santa Anita. (Passed Johnny Longden into second place on the all-time win list.)

* 6,000th win: Feb. 17, 1985, on Doria’s Delight at Santa Anita.

* 5,000th win: Sept. 30, 1981, on Wander at Santa Anita.

* 4,000th win: Nov. 18, 1979, on Gladiolus (First Flight Handicap) at Aqueduct.

* 3,000th win: July 17, 1975, on Lexington Lark at Hollywood Park.

* First U.S. win: 1966, Teacher’s Art, at Arlington Park.

* First win: 1964, Huelen, at Presidente Remon in Panama.

Good Company

Some of the prominent horses ridden by Laffit Pincay:

AFFIRMED -- 1979 Jockey Gold Cup (Belmont), Hollywood Gold Cup, Santa Anita Handicap. Hall of Fame (inducted in 1980).

BAYAKOA -- 1989 and 1990 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Hall of Fame (1998).

CAPOTE -- 1986 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

CAVEAT -- 1983 Belmont Stakes.

CONQUISTADOR CIELO -- 1982 Belmont Stakes.

COUGAR II -- 1973 Santa Anita Handicap.

DESERT VIXEN -- Hall of Fame (1979).

GAMELY -- Hall of Fame (1980).

GENUINE RISK -- Hall of Fame (1986).

JOHN HENRY -- 1981 Santa Anita Handicap. Hall of Fame (1990).

PERRAULT -- 1982 Arlington Million, Hollywood Gold Cup.

SKYWALKER -- 1986 Breeders’ Cup Classic, 1985 Santa Anita Derby.

SPEND A BUCK -- 1985 Jersey Derby.

SUSAN’S GIRL -- Hall of Fame (1976).

SWALE -- 1984 Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes.

Year-by-Year

A look at Laffit Pincay’s career record:

*--* Year Mts 1st 2nd 3rd Earnings PANAMA RECORD PRIOR TO COMING TO U.S 1,395 448 297 216 $375,948 U.S. RECORD 1966 539 92 70 81 $612,918 1967 1,240 231 181 166 $1,933,618 1968 1,283 266 191 185 $2,303,837 1969 899 162 133 112 $1,671,118 1970 1,328 269 208 187 $2,626,526 1971 1,627 380 288 214 $3,784,337 1972 1,388 289 215 205 $3,225,827 1973 1,444 350 254 209 $4,093,492 1974 1,278 341 227 180 $4,251,060 1975 1,211 268 224 185 $3,459,906 1976 1,435 386 263 173 $4,377,661 1977 1,329 295 247 200 $4,385,951 1978 1,428 287 253 205 $4,132,993 1979 1,708 420 302 261 $8,183,535 1980* 1,426 291 225 223 $6,512,611 1981* 1,514 302 286 229 $7,918,790 1982 1,478 302 240 221 $9,076,024 1983 1,421 299 246 192 $8,813,457 1984 1,407 299 235 192 $8,813,457 1985 1,409 289 246 183 $13,415,049 1986 1,318 252 209 160 $10,169,078 1987* 1,467 314 272 199 $11,952,663 1988 1,102 198 159 145 $8,575,377 1989 1,594 298 224 212 $11,361,610 1990 1,079 150 122 137 $6,546,980 1991* 1,438 218 202 174 $8,328,610 1992 1,290 194 189 128 $7,339,460 1993 1,222 166 172 169 $6,743,689 1994 1,213 158 171 171 $6,841,338 1995 1,269 156 187 185 $6,178,775 1996 980 129 122 135 $4,160,355 1997 718 75 94 82 $2,522,644 1998 730 103 101 110 $3,915,284 1999* 1,112 171 158 141 $6,662,689 2000 1,091 203 186 137 $8,178,680 2001 1,252 225 180 152 $10,080,366 2002 1,189 205 167 163 $9,577,457 2003 229 49 34 31 $1,967,131 Totals 48,486 9,530 7,783 6,650 $237,417,045

*--*

* -- Includes victories outside U.S.


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