12/23/2001 12:00AM

Pincay and Solis: Two of a kind


ARCADIA, Calif. - They are separated by nearly 18 years, but they are close in every other way. Laffit Pincay Jr. and Alex Solis both hail from Panama and both have carved out successful riding careers in this country. They stick close to each other in the Santa Anita jockeys' room, where they have lockers near one another.

They also have the same unwavering work ethic, which, along with their talent, has translated into a gripping rivalry on the racetrack. Either Pincay or Solis has won the last five riding titles in Southern California, and six of the last seven. They finished one-two at three consecutive meets this year, a streak that was broken when Pincay finished third, behind Solis and Kent Desormeaux, at the recently concluded Hollywood Park fall meeting.

Pincay and Solis figure to battle it out again this winter at Santa Anita, which opens on Wednesday. Pincay has mounts on six of the nine races Wednesday, including Discreet Hero in the featured Grade 1, $200,000 Malibu Stakes, the day's sixth race. Solis has seven mounts, including Scorpion, last summer's Jim Dandy winner, in the Malibu.

Pincay, who turns 55 on Saturday, continues to be an athletic marvel. He is this meet's defending riding champion, having captured 73 races last winter. He also prevailed in dramatic fashion at Hollywood Park's summer meeting, winning the last race of the meet to beat Solis by 64-63, and he outdueled Solis at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting by 33-31.

Can he do it again?

"If [Bill] Spawr has a good meet, I'll have a chance," said Pincay's agent, Bob Meldahl, referring to one of Pincay's main clients. "You can't plan on being leading rider. If it happens, it happens."

Solis, 37, finished fourth here last winter, but has been on a tear since. After losing narrowly last summer to Pincay at Hollywood Park, Solis beat Pincay by 36-34 at Del Mar, and he finished with 30 victories to Desormeaux's 25 and Pincay's 23 at Hollywood's fall meeting.

"They're both classy people," said trainer Ron McAnally, who uses both riders. "They'll ride anything. Longshots, anything. They always show up. Laffit, the first time I saw him, I thought he was an unbelievable rider. He's built like a fighter. Alex is too."

McAnally has watched Pincay's renaissance with interest. Five years ago, Pincay was mired in a slump, and McAnally was among many who did not use Pincay as often as in the past.

"He wasn't getting good mounts, and I think he was getting depressed," McAnally said. "He's always been a dedicated rider. He was fighting his weight. I remember talking to him about riding in Europe, because you can ride heavier over there. But he didn't want to go there. Once he got his weight under control, he came to life, and Spawr kept riding him. He got his confidence back."

"He should be a role model for all jockeys," said veteran agent Bill Barisoff, who represents apprentice Elvis Trujillo. "He shows up, he never takes off, and he never says boo."

Solis is more lighthearted than Pincay, but no less serious about his work. Early arrivals at the track can see him jogging around the racecourse, exercise he sneaks in between working horses in the morning and riding in the afternoon.

"He's a hard-working, nice guy. You don't mind helping a guy like him," said trainer Bobby Frankel. "He works hard, and he takes care of himself."

Frankel uses Solis on a number of turf horses, most notably Super Quercus, the Hollywood Turf Cup winner. On Wednesday's card, Solis rides Blue Steller for Frankel in the $75,000-added Sir Beaufort Stakes, the day's eighth race, at one mile on turf.

"I like riding him on grass," Frankel said. "He gets horses to relax really well. His style suits my type of horses. He's an underrated grass rider. People don't realize how good he is."