Increasingly depressed and reclusive, refusing to leave the house, she would tell Pincay, "I hate the way I feel. I don't feel like going to the track. I just don't want to do anything. I'm a burden to the family. I don't know why I didn't die during the operation."
On the night before she took her life Pincay heard her slurring her words and discovered the vodka. "How can you mix these things?" he angrily demanded of her. "You know you're taking pain pills. Why do you drink?" She drifted off to bed, but he stayed up, fuming. He was still angry the next morning as he left for the races, and the last words he ever spoke to her were "I'll see you later."
That day Linda locked herself in their bedroom. Laffit Pincay III, then nine, tried to get in to ask her something, but she refused to open the door. "Go away," Linda said. Lisa became alarmed. So she shooed Laffit to his room and asked her mother to open the door. "Go away," Linda repeated. Growing more concerned, Lisa began looking for the key to the bedroom. As she searched frantically, she heard the shot. In a panic she ran at the door and slammed a shoulder into it. The door burst open. "My mom was lying on the floor with a gun in her hand," Lisa says. She called the paramedics. And then, in tears, her father.
Inevitably, for Pincay, there was a piercing sense of anger and guilt over things real and imagined. "I should have known this, I should have done that," says Pincay. "The guilt lasted for a while, until I realized I had every right to be mad at her for doing what she did. I was mad at her for a long time, but not anymore. That was her wish. I respect that. She did it. Even though at the time I don't think she knew what she was doing. I think she did it because she got into the drinking stage so bad that she couldn't be without drinking. She was mixing the alcohol and the pills. She got to where she couldn't go back and felt very bad about it. A combination of that and feeling depressed—feeling that she was never going to be the same again."
Of course, from the depths of this ordeal, Pincay did come back again. "It was something I had to prove," he says. "I thought, 'I still have a lot of people to live for.' I said to myself, 'I'm going to prove to everyone I can go on.' I started to work hard. I started getting up in the morning and working horses. I hadn't done that for a while."
He walked two miles a day after those morning workouts, and day by day he felt stronger and more confident. "I got ahold of myself," Pincay says, "and I talked to myself and I said to myself, 'I've got this one life.' I had seen so many people go down because of one thing that bothered them and I said, 'I have been tough all my life with my profession, with my self-discipline, and I'm not going to let this happen to me.' "
He did not. Shoemaker was the least surprised of all. "How many times have they said I was finished?" asked the ageless Shoe. "I've been saying for years, 'I'm going to show them they're wrong!' I never had any doubt in my mind that Laffit would keep riding. There has never been any rider who is more dedicated to his profession—not me, or Arcaro, or anyone. I don't care who he is."
And, to be sure, what a year the man had, filled as it was with old glories and new emotions and records that fell like flowers at his feet. Pincay came back to the track two weeks after his wife's death, going winless in five races. But the next day he won the $138,300 Santa Maria Handicap on Adored, one of Linda's favorite horses. In a memorable scene, Pincay and Adored's trainer, his old friend Laz Barrera, embraced in the winner's circle, both men in tears. "Don't you worry," Barrera whispered to him. "She's in heaven looking down at you here."
So Pincay was back, and soon riding with his old intensity when money was on the line. There was that magnificent ride aboard Spend a Buck—a classic Pincay performance—when he literally held together the tired, leg-weary colt in the Jersey Derby to win by a neck, thus pulling down the largest single purse in racing history, $2.6 million. He became the leading money-winning jockey of all time when, on Aug. 25, his career earnings soared to $102,048,656, putting him ahead of the venerable Shoemaker. His year culminated in a victory aboard Tasso in the 1985 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Aqueduct; by December he had won $13.4 million in purses, the most ever by a rider in a year. For all he had done, and no doubt as a kind of sympathy vote for what he had overcome to do it, he won his fifth Eclipse award.
Despite all the laurels of the year, there was the agony and despair in which it began and the sense of emptiness he felt at the end of it, particularly with the coming of Christmas and the unknown dread that haunted him and kept him awake at night. It began after Thanksgiving. "I'd wake up at three in the morning and I couldn't sleep anymore," he says. "I'd get up and watch TV or read. Any book. I kept saying, 'What's happening?' I don't drink any coffee, except on weekends. I didn't know what it was. It bothered me that I couldn't sleep. You feel down, drowsy, your energy drops. 'What's going on?' I kept saying. 'Why do I feel this way?' It must have been the fear of Christmas—deep inside I was really worried how we were going to be for Christmas—fear of how my kids were going to be. Lisa was fine but I was afraid for the little one."