By Ed Golden (Santa Anita Stable Notes)
After more than 48,000 career mounts and a record 9,530 victories, Laffit Pincay, Jr. called it a career in April 2003, following a broken neck sustained in a spill coming down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course. Thoroughbred racing’s winningest rider at the time of his retirement, the incomparable Pincay was and is regarded by many as the greatest jockey of all-time.
Fast forward to April 5, 2018, at 7:35 a.m., Pincay was on-hand in the Santa Anita Walking Ring to do a “walk and talk” interview with Elizabeth Espinosa of the KTLA Morning News. In the pre-broadcast routine of getting acquainted, it was suggested that Pincay get a leg up on a retired Thoroughbred named Freckles from the Matt Chew stable.
As he showed Espinosa how to take a mane hold and the importance of keeping one’s hands low on a horse’s neck, the legendary Pincay turned and said, “You know, this is the first horse I’ve been on since I retired.”
A winner of six Eclipse Awards, a member of the Hall of Fame since 1975, a 14-time leading rider at Santa Anita’s prestigious Winter/Spring Meeting, a winner of a record 138 races at the 1970-71 stand, seven Santa Anita Derbies, a Kentucky Derby, three Belmonts, seven Breeders’ Cup races and a dominant force in America from 1966 up until his retirement at the age of 56— this was the first time Pincay had been astride a horse, any horse, in 15 years.
To say the least, it was an emotional moment, not only for Pincay, but for anyone within earshot. The classiest of athletes throughout his remarkable career, which began in his native Panama in 1964, Pincay artfully explained the nuances of how to approach a horse and most importantly, what makes them run.
“My whole career, I had to watch my weight,” he said. “I needed to weigh 112 pounds, stripped, so I could tack 117. But even though I had to be careful with what I ate, I always made sure my legs were strong. Your legs are the most important thing. If your legs get tired, horses know that and they won’t run for you like they do when you are really fit.
“I know, because there was a few times when my legs didn’t feel good and I lost races that I should have won. It’s the same thing with your attitude. Horses know. They feel that positive energy and they respond.”
And, safe to say, so did hundreds of thousands of KTLA viewers this morning who shared a truly special moment with a living legend.