SI Vault
William Nack
October 29, 1979
Having won an agonizing fight with weight, top jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. is having a record-shattering year
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October 29, 1979

No Sweat For Laffit

Having won an agonizing fight with weight, top jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. is having a record-shattering year

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But he was going for his fifth straight riding championship, and he pressed on. On a flight from Kentucky to New York, he felt dizzy as the plane took off. "I got very nervous," he recalls. "I thought I was going to go crazy. I thought of screaming and running. I think it was the drugs." Shortly after he got to New York, shaken, he decided to hang it up for the year, and flew to Aruba with his wife, his close friend Jockey Alvaro Pineda and Pineda's wife. Pincay won the riding championship after cutting short his vacation, but that was to be his last title.

Pineda was killed in a starting-gate accident at Santa Anita in January 1975, and Pincay grieved for months. He had been on an all-protein diet since November, and as usual he did not feel well. He was anemic; physicians believed they may have found a parasite in his spleen. "He was not the same rider in '75," Linda says. "I don't think it was only Alvaro's death. I think it was also the diet he was on. All-protein, and water pills and diet pills. The doctor who put him on it told him, 'This is against everything I've ever been taught, because you have no fat, but I'm going to do it because I'm afraid if I don't, you'll try something else, and I want you under my care.' He was trying to help him, but it wasn't right for Laffit. He would get sullen and depressed. There was no communication. I felt like I barely knew him. It kept him out of the box, but it got him very, very weak. He was quiet and moody. There was no closeness, like he was living all by himself. He was like a robot."

Pincay broke his collarbone twice in 1975, in March and July, and what with the fractures, the diet and Pineda's death, the thought of quitting came to him. He tried to resist the box; its sweet medicinal smell was now enough to make him ill. He began thinking, "What am I doing here? Alvaro had been working very, very hard. He gets killed trying so hard. It was like I was putting myself in his position. Why do I have to suffer like this—to get killed like he did? I questioned whether what I was doing was right. I didn't know if it was worth it. What's important? What means something to me?"

The following spring he asked his business representative to fire DeGregory, who was in Las Vegas when he got the call.

"What?" DeGregory said.

"That's what Laffit told me to tell you," said the agent.

"You must be kidding. I talked to him last night."

"He told me to tell you you're fired."

Knowing how persuasive DeGregory could be, Pincay felt that "If I didn't do it that way, I'd have never gotten rid of him. I know him. He would have told me I was wrong, he was right, and I'm very soft. He's a good agent. I know he's competitive. I just didn't need somebody like that."

So DeGregory was gone. "I'm still just dumbfounded about the whole thing," he says. Pincay hired agent George O'Bryan. "The first thing I said to him was, 'I don't want any pressure from you or anybody,' " Pincay says. " 'I don't want any worry about leading rider or anything. I don't want anybody pushing me around. I just want to be happy and try to do some good.' "

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