I love legends. No matter if they are playground, street corner, past or living. Legendary never dissolves or dies, it just grows.
Legends come in all colors, shapes, sizes and stories. They are found all over, and they come from everywhere.
Legends usually have gone way beyond the call of duty and are very special people. Some are self-proclaimed.
Meet Laffit Pincay Jr., now 74 years young, a former professional jockey who reached the legend status from his accomplishments on the racetrack as well as off of it.
For 40-plus years, Pincay rode professionally as a jockey beginning in his native Panama then to Chicago, where he became a winning machine as a jockey then making the move here to California (Santa Anita), becoming legendary.
Just to put it into perspective, Laffit Pincay Jr. mounted a horse over 47,000 times (think about that for a second). He won 9,530 times, earned six Eclipse Awards for best jockey, was leading rider at Santa Anita 14 times and won countless titles and stake races at Del Mar.
Pincay won the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup races. (He never won the Preakness.) He won the Santa Anita Derby seven times, the Hollywood Gold Cup nine times and led the nation in money earnings five years in a row (1970-74). He even prompted a street name change — 90th Street at Prairie Avenue in Inglewood (a stone’s throw from the Fabulous Forum ) was renamed Pincay Drive in 2003.
Pincay was inducted into the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 1975. He sacrificed to become the champion he became, and no one did it better.
At the time of his retirement in April 2003, he remained horse racing’s winningest jockey. On Dec. 10, 1999, at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, he broke the career victory record previously held by Bill Shoemaker with his 8,834th win.
On Dec. 1, 2006, jockey Russell Baze passed Pincay on the all-time win list, and in February 2018, Brazilian jockey Jorge Ricardo surpassed Baze with 12,843 career victories.
Pincay and I met in 1976. Over the years, he and I have become close friends. He is without question one of the classiest athletes I have ever met. And I have met plenty. When we talk, which is often, I always feel better.
I treasure my friendship with him for so many reasons. One is that he is the most decent and nicest individual I have ever had the pleasure of calling a friend. His life has been filled with many ups and downs, including some personal tragedies and the constant fight to make weight and reduce in the hot box.
But that never changed the person, the man, the fierce competitor, the gift and champion he was and still is to this day. I can’t ever recall him bad-mouthing or saying anything negative about anyone. And, truly, that is award-winning.
Last Saturday at Del Mar, Pincay was on hand to present the trophy for an award named after him. The Laffit Pincay Jr. Award is presented annually to someone who has served the horse racing industry with integrity, dedication, determination and distinction.
That award only gingerly depicts what Laffit Pincay Jr. represents. Del Mar should have presented the award to Pincay himself over and over again. Very few have gained and retained the respect earned by Laffit Pincay Jr., born Laffit Alejandro Pincay Jr. on Dec. 29, 1946, in Panama City, Panama.
Watching him walk through that crowd Saturday — being stopped, mobbed by adoring fans, signing autographs, shaking hands, taking pictures —only assured and certified to me that Laffit Pincay Jr. is a legend.
A Living One!