Sometime soon—maybe this week—Laffit Pincay will win for the 8,834th time and pass Bill Shoemaker to become the top rider in history. That mark will jockey for position with Pincay's four wins in Triple Crown races and five Eclipse awards as America's top rider. The 5'1", 117-pound Pincay (above, edging Shoemaker in 1979) has been so good for so long that he has been a hall of famer since 1975.
Through Sunday, Pincay, 52, had 12 wins in 57 mounts at the autumn meeting at Hollywood Park. "He's riding like he's 22," says jockey Gary Stevens. Nobody foresaw a revival two years ago when Pincay decided to move his tack north from Southern California to the Bay Area. He needed 269 wins to catch Shoemaker and figured he'd do it in the bush leagues. "I just wanted to get it over with and retire," he says. "I felt old. I think it's because I wasn't eating well."
He had waged a 30-year battle to keep his weight down. But in '97, after years of relying on diet pills and intermittent starvation, he tried a balanced diet that allowed 850 calories a day. "I felt different right away," he says. "I had so much energy I couldn't sleep."
Bleary-eyed but rejuvenated, he stayed in Southern California, where he rides winners and reminisces with his buddy Shoemaker, who is confined to a wheelchair but often visits Pincay in the jockeys' room at Hollywood. "There isn't a better guy to get the record," says Shoe. "He's the most dedicated rider I've ever seen."
"I'm riding well," says Pincay, who has retired his retirement plans. "I just wish I'd known about this diet sooner."