LAFFIT PINCAY, JR. AND EDDIE DELAHOUSSAYE
by Jay Hovdey
Fire and ice, Laffit and Eddie D. They were brothers in arms through good times and bad, both de-commissioned but still in one piece. They take the stage tonight, standing and proud, as the California racing industry gathers to honor two of its finest kind.
Eddie Delahoussaye is the tall one, the pride of delta country, with the battleship jawline and the honeydew drawl.
Laffit Pincay comes more compact, sculpted to perfection, a prime cut of Panamanian manhood.
Delahoussaye spent his career in the saddle lulling everyone else to sleep. On the lead, buried in the pack, lagging far behind-he never tipped his hand. Chris McCarron once said that you never, ever knew how much horse Eddie D. had left. Sometimes even the horse was surprised.
The Pincay style was more direct, a simple approach in the style that worked well for Gen. George Patton and the third Army as they tore thorough France. If you beat Laffit, Gary Stevens would say, you knew you have earned your pay.
Standing side by side, they give off a regal air. Funny how 15,914 winners will do that. Pincay contributed 9,530, while Delahoussaye’s share came to 6,384. Between them, with a combined total of nearby 70 years of competition, there were 87,700 mounts.
They made the most of them. Among those thousands were three Kentucky Derbies, five Belmonts, and 14 Breeder’s Cup victories, including a Breeder’s Cup Classic for each. As a result, visitors to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs will find plaques for both Delahoussaye and Pincay on the walls of the Hall of Champions.
However, such statistical profiles tell only part of the story. It is the men behind those facts and figures who are being honored. They are mentors to young colleagues and inspiring to their peers, as well as being consummate horsemen and tireless advocates for the welfare of their dangerous profession.
The common sadness in their otherwise happy careers was the ending. Neither Pincay nor Delahoussaye was allowed to choose the day. Delahoussaye went down hard on the Del Mar grass course on Aug. 30, 2002, when his mount was fatally injured. Pincay fell to earth for the last time on March 1, 2003, crossing the dirt on Santa Anita’s down hill course.
Both men sustained neck injuries that are still in the healing process. Neither Pincay, who is 57, nor Delahoussaye, at 52, was willing to risk permanent disability on a comeback try. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t thought about it. And they both miss riding, deep in their hearts.
On this particular night, Delahoussaye and Pincay are allowing their good reputations to be used in pursuit of funds to further the work of the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation. The Foundation exists to improve the quality of life for the people who take care of the horses that populate California’s racing industry.
It comes as no surprise that both Delahoussaye and Pincay were tangled in some glorious history with the late Eddie Gregson, the trainer, owner, breeder and industry leader in whose name the Foundation was established.
Pincay was a regular on any number of Gregson’s top horses, including Royal Chariot, Tsunami Slew, Kittyluck and Super Diamond, who was one of nine Pincay winners of the Hollywood Gold Cup.
In 1982, Gregson and Delahoussaye collaborated to make history in the 108th Kentucky Derby, upsetting the field with the gray colt Gato del Sol. Delahoussaye went on to win the 1983 Derby with Sunny’s Halo, while Pincay followed in 1984 with his Derby winner, Swale.
“I loved Eddie,” Delahoussaye said. “He is a great guy, and he was great for racing. He went out of his way to help a lot of people, and didn’t ask for any thanks.
“I’m really impressed with the work of the Foundation,” Delahoussaye went on. “I knew they were helping the backstretch kids with scholarships, but I didn’t realize they’d helped so many.
“I always connect with the grooms, the guys that work with the horses,” he added. “They’re hard-working people who don’t get the credit they deserve. Without them, we’d have nothing. If you don’t have a top groom who loves his work, it shows in the animal’s performance.”
Pincay echoed Delahoussaye’s sentiments. “I think a lot of people who work on the backstretch,” Pincay said. “I’ve got a lot of friends there. They work very hard. The well-being of the horses depends a lot on those guys.
“And they can help you a lot as a jockey,” Pincay added. “They can tell you about the horses, how they are doing. I’m happy to help them if I can.”
Since his official retirement last May, Pincay has been publicly honored several times, including a memorable ceremony at Hollywood Park.
Delahoussaye, on the other hand, declined offers for such overt displays of respect and affection. He said he wasn’t quite sure how he would handle it, and he didn’t want to find out. When it became clear that Eddie D. would never ride again, there were a few private gatherings to mark the moment and hundreds of personal expressions, and Delahoussaye was grateful.
Now, the Gregson Foundation evening will be the first time a large public audience from the racing world will be able to pay tribute to Delahoussaye’s career. Why the change of heart?
“It’s a real good cause,” Delahoussaye replied. “And I’ll get Paddy Gallagher to write me a few jokes, so I’ll be okay.”