"�O Laffit! "she cried in horror. "�Esta es la manera que te gusta andar?" (Is this how you like to go around?)
"�Aqui esta donde tu quieres estar?" she asked. (Is this where you want to be?)
In 1964, his first year as a rider, he was the leading apprentice in Panama, and when Jorge Velasquez signed a contract with owner Fred Hooper to ride in the U.S.—as Braulio Baeza had done a few years before—Pincay became Panama's leading rider. In 1966, he also came north with Hooper and was under contract to him for three years. Pincay was a superlative rider from the start here but did not become the nation's top jockey until 1970, when he hired Vince DeGregory as his agent. Then began his five-year reign as leading money-winner. They were a show, Pincay and DeGregory, wherever they went.
There was the glib, peripatetic DeGregory of Saratoga Springs, N.Y.—movie-star suave and tall, engaging, very savvy, a master at reading condition books and charts and at finding the horses for Pincay to ride. And there was Pin-cay, handsome and intense, with high Indian cheekbones and black hair. When he was on the Tonight Show he sat with his legs crossed and his arms folded, looking like a choirboy. And so polite. You could just hear the folks out there in Middle America saying, "My! What a nice young man."
And he was. But inside he was on edge, and had been since 1969, when he began his fight with his weight. For years he took a diet pill every day to reduce his appetite, but the pill made him nervous and he couldn't get enough sleep. He took a water pill almost every day to keep liquids from accumulating in his system, but those pills caused debilitating cramps. "At the beginning you don't feel them," Pincay says. "You just think it's great that you lost some weight. Then later on you start feeling cramps in your legs, then your back, and dizziness. Little by little it starts getting into your system and you start feeling the weakness and the cramps." He would go off the water pills, then back on them, then off and back on them again.
"I was tired all the time," he says. While taking the pills he would hit the hotbox every morning, 40 minutes to an hour a day, to sweat off four to five pounds in order to ride at 115 or 117. At Saratoga, desperate to lose weight, he bought himself a hotbox all his own—a baby-blue job he set up in his living room. "It was the kind where your head sticks out," says his wife, Linda. "He'd get inside, I'd close the lid, and he'd sit there all morning in the thing and we'd talk and watch the game shows—
Hollywood Squares, Jeopardy, High Rollers—and try to answer the questions; anything to take his mind off what he was doing. The poor guy, he would sit for hours and sweat so little—I could see him get upset and anxious when he didn't sweat—and then he would walk to the track, trying to sweat some more in the heat, then get into the sweatbox there."
He changed diets like jockeys' silks, slipping out of one and into another. And he loved food. On Dec. 1, 1972, when he was far ahead in the national jockey standings and on his way to his third money-winning title, Pincay decided to take a vacation. He packed his things in New York, climbed into his white Continental Mark III and started the 3,000-mile drive to his home in suburban Los Angeles. It had been a long if lucrative year, and Pincay was tired, especially of the diet he'd been on to keep his weight at 115 pounds. That was about what he weighed when he left New York. Now it was time to relax, and eat.
And he ate on that long drive home, not an unusual amount by ordinary standards, but a prodigious quantity for him—three meals a day. For breakfast a couple of eggs, coffee with a dash of cream, and toast. For lunch a piece of meat and a vegetable. For dinner, a big steak, vegetables, a piece of bread or two and a glass of wine or two. Fond of caramel lollipops, he had one at each stop on the way. The trip took five days. When he got home, Linda took one look at him and called DeGregory: "You've got to see Laffit!"