Pinky the Pirate by Pete Pedersen

Hollywood Park and Santa Anita are known as "Shoemaker country" by those who observe-and perhaps envy-the remarkable record the transplanted Texan has run up on the golden ovals of California.

That his record is not provincial has been demonstrated on battlegrounds all over the land. To argue against Shoemakers ability,though there are a number who do, is like arguing against the law of gravity.

Since racing thrives on competition, the knock-the-champion brigade takes to its heart anyone capable of dueling with the kingpins. Such a performer is young Laffit Pincay, Jr., a Panamanian bombshell who exploded on Santa Anita the past season. Before the meeting was completed, he had captivated everyone who thrills to the emergence of a rising star.

Pincay had a record bordering on the sensational before he left Panama for the United States. In five months of riding on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays in the canal country in 1966, he won 133 races from 326 mounts. Check that percentage. It's 40.8 in case you don't have a pencil.

As of March 31, this year, Pincay was fourth in the jockey standings with 74 wins. The tied leaders Jorge Velasquez and Joe Lopez had 79 apiece and Shoemaker was next with 76.

In the money-earned column, Laffit was second. His mounts won $605,542. Shoemaker led with $739,664.

The correct pronunciation of of his surname approximates "Pink-Eye," though it will probably remain as "Pin-Kay" to general public.

The twenty-year-old jockey was born in Panama City where he began galloping horses when he was 15. He broke in as a regular rider at the age of 17. He didn't spend much time working his way to the top. He practically started there.

As to his quick success, he he explains, "I had luck, I guess."

Pincay is following king-size boots in this country. He is the third Panamanian to go to work for Fred W. Hooper. Ramon Navarro, the same man who recommended Braulio Baeza and Jorge Velasquez, also brought word on young Pincay. They make up an outstanding trio.

Baeza was the leading-money winning jockey of 1966 ($2,951,002) and third in the standings for races won (298). Velasquez rode 300 winners to finish second, and his mounts earned $1,277,482.

Regarding the success of Panamanian jockeys in this country, Velasquez made a classic statement. He said "When you lose down there, they throw things at you."

Pincay signed a three-year contract with Hooper. He arrived in the United States in July and at the end of the New York season was tied with veteran Bobby Ussery for third place in the standings at Aqueduct.

"No one showed me how to ride," he says. "I not try to copy anyone. I just do what I think right on a horse."

One might imagine that Laffit was brought into racing by his father, a successful rider who had the mount on Primordial in the 1964 Washington D.C. International. However, he never rode with or against Pincay, Sr. The elder jockey left the family before the young Laffit came to the track. Junior made it entirely on his own.

Pincay is exceptionally muscular and well developed for his age. Though he appears slender in is riding silks, his strength is evident when he sets a horse down for the drive. His whipping will improve with experience, but when he levels out in a hand ride ride, he reminds one of the power that Eddie Arcaro could impart to a horse in that final stretch of real estate.

Alfed Shelhamer, former jockey and now state steward in California, lists two reasons for Pincay's quick success. "He has exceptionally large, fine hands and he sits on a horse as lightly as though he is balanced on a spring."

Weight is not a problem with Pincay, though with his fame and at his age he cannot totally ignore the count of calories. He keeps in riding trim by breakfasting on a cup of coffee, has a bowl of soup for lunch and eats what he wants-usually a steak-for dinner. His valet, Don Yeutter, said he only "hit the box" once during the Santa Anita season.

Pincay, who loves baseball and bowling, was a shortstop and third baseman on the Panama City sandlots. "I play good," he grins.

Agent Camilo Marin originally was okayed to act as interpreter when Pincay would get riding instructions.

But the jockey has quickly picked up the ability to understand the language. It naturally takes longer to learn to express himself in English, but it is coming fast.

Racing here is not like in Panama," he says. "There, no good horses like here. I love this country, the racetracks are nice, the horses good, and the people, they all very kind to me."

Hooper's trainer, J.E. (Cotton) Tinsley, Jr., reports that Pincay is a willing worker at the barn, pleasing to be around, more outgoing than the reserved Baeza. The capable conditioner has good words for both riders while underlining the differences in their personalities.

Shoemaker has given unsolicited praise to Pincay. "He has all the moves," says Shoe. "He knows how to save a horse, and not be all over it in a drive. He should be a great one."

Pincay won his first $100,000 race when he received the rewards of patience by waiting for the right moment with Drin in the Charles H. Strub Stakes, then turning loose for the payoff drive. He was astounded when Clerk of the Scales Hubert Jones wrote down and showed what his 10 percent of the winning purse amounted to.

"I can't believe it that much!" he exclaimed.

He came back next week an drove Miss Moona to a close decision in the $50,000 Santa Margarita Handicap, winning in the final stride.

Explaining the race to the press corps, Laffit said, "In the stretch I look around for Natashka and Shoemaker. I no see them and finally I think mebbe they not coming. Then I began to feel good."

Pincay has green eyes ("cat eyes," he calls them) a long straight nose and pleasing features. He will be a favorite of the girls. But he is all business on the racecourse and Agent Marin reports that he always is in top shape.

Camilo Marin, who gives the uninitiated the impression that he just got off the boat, actually is a veteran of his profession in this country. A native of Cuba, he is now an American citizen and has handled riders here for 30 years.

"I was with Fernando Fernandez for 18 years," says Marin. He obviously had high affection for for that jockey. "In all that time he was never set down. He was wonderful to work with. A real pro."

Camilo has at various times worked for Manuel Ycaza, Ismael Valezuela, Don Brumfield, and more recently had the book of Braulio Baeza when that Panamanian catapulted to the top in this country. Marin and Baeza parted company when the jockey bought his contract from Owner Hooper.

Marin, who speaks with a dialect which qulifies him as a Latin from Manhattan, explains the remakable success of the Panamanian jockeys. "Most of them are poor, from poor families," he says "They have to start out at the bottom. Nothing comes easy. And down there, they learn quickly to take care of themselves. Being successful as a jockey can offer them so much more than they can get in any other form of work. On the tracks, they have to do much hard work before they can ride. And when they do start riding, with it all concentrated on weekend cards, they learn quickly what it is all about-or they dont last."

As for Pincay, Marin says, "He's a clean rider. He knows the difference. He's a little gentleman. He just wants to ride. He's a good judge of pace, like Baeza, and that makes a good rider. He has no ig head, and that means something at his age with his success. His mother worked hard for the family. He graduated from high-school. That meant something. Later, when his stepfather retires, Laffit plans to bring the family to this country.

Marin adds one more significant observation on his young charge. "He's like Baeza in attitude. He rides a stakes race just like he would a cheap claimer. In other words, the pressure doesn't get to him. That doesn't mean that he isn't up to his best for the big money races. But he rides with the same confidence in all of his races."

One example occurred midway in the Santa Anita season. He was up and down more times that afternoon (February 13) than a yo-yo. After winning the second race on Meistersinger his mount suddenly veered for the inside rail while pulling up. There was a collision and two horses went down with Pincay and Alvaro Pineda catapulting into a tangle of hoofs and horseflesh. Laffit bounced up, shook himself, then ran back to the finish line where he remounted (to applause) for the winner's circle ceremonies. In the Santa Susanna Stakes, his mount, Gay Violin, stumbled sharply at the start and again Pincay was dumped. Shaking off that spill, he came right back in the final race to win on Babul-his fourth winner on the card!

As for the mounts which Marin obtains for Pincay, there is no complaint from the jockey on the quality of stock. "He never asks me questions or argues about his mounts," says Marin. "He lets me handle that part of it without any interference."

Marin, agenting for Baeza and now Pincay in California, must give first call to Fred Hooper and Cotton Tinsley in such races as they have entered. There are occasions when he is in a switch. His rider is named on a horse in the same race in which the contract employer has one entered.

Marin's statement to extricate himself from the dilemma has become part of the language at entry drawing time in Southern California. "Sorry, the stable went in at the last minute."

Valet Yeutter, wh has done just about everything on a racetrack but drop the recall flag, first spotted Pincay in Chicago last summer. Yeutter was there at the time as agent for Ismael Valenzuela. He made arrangements to handle the tack for Pincay at Santa Anita.

"He's easy to work with," says Yeutter, "fun-loving enough, but serious, too. As he got more familiar with the riders, he settled down and fitted right into the picture. I saw no evidence of temperment-a perfect type for a rider. That's all he wants to do--ride. He's mostly all business."

Yeutter, an ex-jockey himself, explains the high cost of equipment for the modern rider. "It costs a minimum of $500 for a jockey to start out," says the blond racetracker. "A good jock has at least $1000 in equipment.

For Pincay he has a two-pound saddle, a 3 1/2-pound saddle and a 4 1/2-pound saddle. "He prefers the the heavier saddle, naturally," says Yeutter. "It's more comfortable tto ride with. I just bought him a new saddle for $150."

Other costs include skull caps at $30 each, boots at $35, whips at $15, goggles at $1.50, plus pants, girths, webbings and incidentals.

To be continued

Return to the Archives