Pincay's Ride To The Record Began At Arlington Park In 1966

While Laffit Pincay has pursued Bill Shoemaker's record for career winners by a jockey, Arlington International Racecourse senior vice-president Bill Thayer has been taking a sentimental journey back in time to O'Hare International Airport in the summer of 1966.

Two years after winning his first race in his native Panama at 17, Pincay signed a contract to ride for distinguished American owner-breeder Fred Hooper, whose stable had it's headquarters at the old Arlington Park. Thayer was a stable agent and assistant trainer at the time.

"Laffit's agent, Camilo Marin, was a Cuban guy who was a friend of mine," Thayer recalled. "I went to the airport with Camilo to pick him up. Camilo knew him from Panama, and Camilo said to me, "Bill when that plane lands you're going to see the greatest rider who ever came out of Latin America."

Pincay rode his first race in the U.S. at Arlington on July 1, 1966, taking Hooper's two year old filly Teacher's Art to the winner's circle.

Although Pincay immeadiately demontrated why he had been the leading rider in Panama during his brief career, there was a period of adjustment. Chicago "was a different kind of racing," Pincay said.

"I remember how much faster the races were here," he said. "In Panama the tracks were a lot heavier. It took me a while to adjust to the fast pace."

But I liked the atmosphere and the people. The only problem was that I couldn't speak the language. My agent(Marin) spoke the language, and that helped a lot."

Making the Chicago circuit his base, Pincay was Arlington's jockey champion in 1967 and the Hawthorne Race Course titlist in 1968.

It was in Chicago that Pincay met Shoemaker.

"I saw him walking in and I couldn't believe it, he was so tiny," Pincay said in an interview with the trade publication Thoroughbred Times. "Th first thought that came to mind was, 'This little guy, how can he win so many races?' Then, when I started riding with him, I relized why he was winning so many races."

After Pincay left Hooper's employment and he moved to the Southern California circuit, Shoemaker became his role model and a close friend.

Pincay has spent mostof his career in California but has ridden in major races throughout the United States.

He has come back to Arlington many times during the last three decades to ride California horses in stakes races. He won the Arlington Million on Perrault in 1982 and on Tight Spot in 1991.