11/07/2001 1:00AM

Hey, ad guys, pitch Pincay


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It's not fair. Not fair at all. Laffit Pincay continues to break the hearts of younger riders, and there's nothing that anyone can do to stop him. He is relentless, unapologetic, and having a terrific time.

Unless you can find a faster horse, there is no way to beat him. He has the advantage of experience, strength, determination, and durability. He does not waste any time or energy playing at golf, go-carts or other silly hobbies. He does not own a restaurant. He is not building a dream home. He is not putting together a broodmare band on the side.

Pincay is defined by his work. There is no alter-ego. His latest piece of self realization was completed last Monday at Santa Anita, when he won his 39th riding title at a California meet.

The final verdict for the Oak Tree season was a 33-31 decision over Alex Solis. This is not to be confused with his 73-63 championship over Tyler Baze at the Santa Anita meet last winter, or with his dramatic 64-63 final-day victory over Solis at the Hollywood Park spring and summer meet. The words change, but the song remains the same.

For some strange reason, though, modern American racing has missed the boat when it comes to Pincay. His face should be plastered everywhere. His name should be worth huge box office. Horse racing might not be the NBA or the PGA. But racing does have its own Michael Jordan, its own Tiger Woods, and his name is Pincay.

There was a taste of broader attention last spring when Pincay was on the scene for the Kentucky Derby, attached to a live mount named Millennium Wind. Nearly every significant media outfit gave time or space to Pincay. Then, during the summer, Sports Illustrated came along with a feature and photos, reminding its readers that the Pincay legend still lived.

The climate was ripe to strike. Pincay was positioned to be racing's national poster boy. But then, when it came time to cast an advertising campaign, the NTRA ended up using three riders who live within driving distance of midtown Manhattan.

As it turns out, Pincay was offered the gig. Once the ad concept sunk in, however, he said no thanks.

"In the beginning, I thought it might be fun," Pincay said Wednesday as he prepared for the Hollywood Park opener. "I could take my wife. Spend a few days in New York. But then, thinking more, it really didn't appeal to me . . . singing . . . on a rocking horse."

Imagine that. Pincay has a sense of humor as broad as the next guy. But who can blame him for declining the opportunity to croon off-key as part of a retro-camp chorus backing a deadpan Kenny Mayne?

The NTRA is not alone. Pincay has passed on other endorsement and commercial opportunities.

"To do them right, they take a lot of time," he said, "and right now I still have a lot of business every day at the track. That leaves me with only two days off, and that's when I want to spend time with my family."

Makes sense. But Pincay was willing when the NTRA approached. Why can't the sport find a way to put its best personality forward? Could it be that Pincay - as an iconographic image - is not really marketable in today's hyper climate? Let's take a closer look:

* Pincay is a fair-skinned, 54-year-old native of Panama City, standing 5-foot-1 and weighing 115 pounds, with a dark, full head of hair and dark eyes, now on brilliant display since his eyelid surgery of last year.

* He wears no ear jewelry, nor does he indulge in body piercings. But he does have a tattoo or two, and one of them bears the name of his wife, Jeanine. Ask him to display the tribute and, as a bonus, you get to see the deeply etched muscles of his upper arm.

* He is a father of three and grandfather of one, and to watch him in action with his youngest son, Jean-Laffitte, is full value entertainment. The two of them should have been doing toy commercials years ago.

Pincay even picked the right team. His favorite baseball player is Randy Johnson, and he was pulling hard for the Diamondbacks. They both had a good October and November.

"I'm kind of a pitcher's guy, and I always root for him," said Pincay, who played second base before he could ride. "He is consistent. I like that."

And so, inspired by the performance of the Diamondbacks last Sunday night, Pincay went out on Monday and came through in the bottom of the ninth by winning two races on Oak Tree's final program.

"I felt bad for the Yankees pitcher, the Panamanian [Mariano Rivera], because I know him," Pincay said. "But I wanted the other team to win. I didn't want to see the Yankees with a dynasty."

That's a good one. In case Pincay failed to notice, he is a one-man dynasty, with no end in sight. Told you he had a sense of humor. Now, if the game can just figure out a way to market its finest resource.