"I felt like a hole opened up and swallowed me," Pincay says. "I didn't care whether I rode or not." Not a few race-trackers, knowing how much he had depended on his wife, felt that her death would finish the man as a rider. "I know people were saying, 'He won't come back,' " Pincay says. "I didn't think I would come back, either." In fact, the 38-year-old Pincay told Aguilera, "I'm going to have to quit riding."
Among other things, what he had lost was a fervently loyal woman who had lent support in his long, agonizing struggles with weight. There was a time when, despondent over this never-ending battle, Pincay began mixing diet pills with vodka and behaving erratically. He was fighting with jockeys at the track and coming home at all hours of the night. His career as well as his marriage was heading for the rocks when Linda drew him up short. "You're going your own way," she told him, "and we're not going anywhere this way." So he quit the booze and the pills and straightened out. "If it weren't for her," he has said more than once, "I wouldn't be here anymore."
Theirs was, by all accounts, a love match almost since the day he first saw her at Santa Anita in December 1966. Pincay was riding a horse owned by her father, Bill Radkovich, a contractor who had built the turf course at Hollywood Park. She was wearing a pretty white dress, but what got him was a dazzlingly quick, toothy smile and flashing brown eyes. He asked her to the Jockeys' Ball in February; they were married a year later. She was not just some candy-baked dolly he had picked up at the Polo Lounge one night and married for her decorative attributes. A racetracker at heart, Linda loved and understood the game, and she traveled frequently with Pincay to major stakes across the country.
Linda dutifully updated his scrap-books, and though he often lost track of such things, she knew how many winners he had and how much money he had won. Not long before she died, she said to him, "Do you know you're close to riding your 6,000th winner?" Pincay said that that was impossible: "I'm at least 300 winners off."
"I'm telling you, Laffit, you're about 100 winners away," she said. The next day she called the Santa Anita press box, had someone look up the figures and announced grandly to him: "I was right. You're 96 winners away."
The shadow that darkened the Pincay marriage was Linda's impulse toward self-destruction. Her mother had tried to kill herself several times, and one of her sisters had ended her own life by taking an overdose of medication. Linda had always been prone to periods of inconsolable depression, but Pincay had stopped worrying about what they might lead to because of the promise that she had made to him.
In the 15 months before her death, though, she had been under enormous stress. In November 1983, doubled up with acute abdominal pain, she was rushed to a hospital. Ten days of tests revealed nothing, and she went home. A month later, after another attack, doctors discovered that she had been suffering from a ruptured appendix and that gangrene had set in.
For Pincay, the long roller-coaster ride had begun. In and out of hospitals, often in great pain, Linda was never again the same. She was still so ill in the spring of 1984 that she was unable to accompany Pincay to the Kentucky Derby. She had been at each of his 10 unsuccessful attempts to win the race he most wanted to win, and that year she missed his first victory, aboard Swale. When Pincay called her afterward from the Directors' Room at Churchill Downs, she suggested she might have been a jinx in the past and asked him, plaintively, "Does this mean I can't go again?"
"Of course not!" Pincay told her.
That night, after the flight home, he wanted to talk to her about the race—they had always talked about the big races he had won—but she had taken her pills and was asleep. She was taking more than that, Pincay knows now, mixing Valium and the painkiller Percodan with vodka. By then she was sounding like a woman who wanted to do away with herself.