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He has them over a barrel
Whitney Tower
December 06, 1971
Ten years ago Laffit Pincay got his first riding lessons sitting on a keg; now even his rivals concede that he is the finest jockey in the world
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December 06, 1971

He Has Them Over A Barrel

Ten years ago Laffit Pincay got his first riding lessons sitting on a keg; now even his rivals concede that he is the finest jockey in the world

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Pincay credits his success to three things: hard work, desire and DeGregory, who strives as hard to get him rides on the best claimers as he does to nail down jobs on horses like the probable 3-year-old champion Bold Reason. "I have a great wish to be the best," says Pincay with easy confidence. "If you get the opportunity you've got to take it when you can. We Panamanians come here with more experience under tougher conditions. At home we start working with broken-down horses. Another thing, the 2-year-olds in Panama are not broken as carefully as they are here so it is a lot more dangerous. You've got to be better."

On riding style, 5'1", 109-pound Pincay has positive opinions: "I don't try to copy anyone. I do what is natural for me. If you try to model yourself on somebody else, I don't think that's right; it's not giving your best concentration to your own style—or to the horse you're on. Sure, I like to look good, but on some horses, when you have to whip and get into a horse, there's no way you can look good."

Pincay, unlike many less enthusiastic jockeys, seeks to please trainers. He rides scrupulously to orders though, as he says, "most of the time in races things don't happen the way trainers think they should. I'd like to be able to use my own judgment, and if I am given a choice, I prefer coming from behind. In the relationship between jockey and horse I think perhaps the jockey is 30 percent. But remember, it is the horse who runs, and at times the horse is 80 percent. Remember, too, that a really good horse will win with almost anybody riding. But on the other hand, a superior jockey can help an average horse, and sometimes I believe when a jockey is riding with confidence he helps his mount. The horse feels it, and in some strange way they manage to get together. If you don't win races regularly you lose your confidence. Then you try harder and that can be no good, too, because sometimes the harder you try, the more things you do wrong. Soon you find yourself in a slump. Other times you can ride bad horses and they all win. Everything is beautiful!

"Slumps are part of the luck and don't necessarily have to do with styles. I remember in California in 1969 I was riding good horses but went maybe 40 races without winning one. Then one afternoon I rode two winners, a heavy favorite and a long shot, and I said to myself, That's good; I'm out of the slump.' Then I won the $100,000 Strub Stakes with Nodouble and the stewards took my number down and gave me a five-day suspension. In my first race back after that I won by a nose, but in the stretch I struck another horse with my whip and again I was disqualified and given five more days. After that suspension I rode two or three days, had a spill and broke my ankle. I was out for two or three months. That's what I mean about slumps being more a part of luck than style."

A magnificently disciplined rider of rare judgment, Pincay still considers getting up at 4 a.m. to work horses as much a part of his job as being given a ride on a stakes winner at 4 p.m. "He'll come around, even on a Sunday morning, looking for work," says King Ranch Trainer Buddy Hirsch. "And when you throw him up on a horse you feel legs like a vise. They remind me of Johnny Longden's."

Although Pincay considers California home, he prefers to ride in the East. "I like New York because the racing is better. At Aqueduct in a 14-horse field you usually have 14 top riders. In California in a 12-horse field there are maybe seven or eight top riders; that's the difference. I guess it's simply that I thrive on competition. But there is something else. I don't know why, but horses have more of a chance in New York. Even if you ride a 50-to-l shot you can win."

None of Pincay's horses have yet entered a Hall of Fame, but there is time ahead. To date he considers his best mounts Advocator, Nodouble, Drin, Rising Market, Gamely, Twice Worthy, Unconscious and Bold Reason. The first Kentucky Derby Pincay ever saw was last May, and he didn't see much of it as his horse, the 5-to-2 favorite, Unconscious, broke down and finished out of the money. "I thought I'd be very nervous being there for the first time and on the favorite, too," he says, "but when it happened it was like any other $100,000 race."

Hundred-granders are going to make Pincay wealthy in the future and to take care of that his business manager has incorporated him and is investing the profits in real estate. But Pincay is not yet thinking of his old age. "I would like to be like Shoemaker," he says, "and keep riding a long, long time. Then I'll stick around the track, probably as a trainer. Not as an agent though. They have too many aggravations."

A few days later veteran Trainer Syl Veitch, who has watched the great riders for years, tossed Laffit Pincay up on a long shot belonging to George D. Widener. "I may not have the best horse," Veitch remarked to a friend in the paddock, "but I know I've got the best jockey. It's his head, you know; he's always thinking. In a race he's a lot like Arcaro once was: he's watching every other horse. Too many guys know only one way to look: straight ahead. This man can outride any jockey in the world right now."

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