04/11/2002 12:00AM

Pincay pays Big A a visit


JAMAICA, N.Y. - The last time Laffit Pincay Jr. rode in New York, Bill Shoemaker was still the sport's winningest rider by more than 300 wins, Bob Baffert had yet to win a Triple Crown race, and Frank Stronach didn't own a single racetrack.

It was Nov. 30, 1996, and Pincay was at Aqueduct to ride Atticus in the NYRA Mile for Richard Mandella. Though Atticus finished sixth, Pincay did visit the winner's circle that day, guiding Pacific Fleet to an allowance win over Unbridled's Song.

On Saturday, Pincay returns to New York as the sport's all-time winningest rider (9,335 wins through Wednesday), hoping to guide Medaglia d'Oro to victory in the $750,000 Wood Memorial, and earn his 21st trip to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby.

"I'm looking forward to it. I got a lot of friends over there," Pincay, a New York regular in the 1970's, said Wednesday from the Santa Anita jockeys' room." Most of the jockeys I rode with are gone, but there are some valets I haven't seen for a long time. New York was one of my favorite places. I enjoyed it when I was there. I won a lot of races."

One race Pincay has not won is the Wood. His only mount, Tasso, finished fourth behind Broad Brush as the 4-5 favorite in 1986. "I don't remember that race at all," Pincay said.

Pincay will have a good chance to win the Wood on Saturday with Medaglia d'Oro. Riding Medaglia d'Oro in his first start since being purchased privately by Frankel for Edmund Gann, Pincay guided Medaglia d'Oro to a 2 1/2-length victory in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 17. In that race, his first around two turns, Medaglia d'Oro raced on the lead, and was passed by two horses down the backside, before re-rallying along the rail to get the win.

"I thought he might need the race going a mile and a sixteenth for the first time in a big race like that with those type of horses," Pincay said. "Going to the gate, he acted really well, his disposition was great, but I was really surprised the way he won the race."

Pincay is one of four California riders coming to New York for the Wood. Mike Smith, who won three Woods from five mounts during his stay in New York, has the call on Nokoma. Gary Stevens, who won the 1994 Wood aboard Irgun, will ride Sunday Break, and Kent Desormeaux, who won the 2000 Wood aboard Fusaichi Pegasus, rides longshot Iwin.

Jerry Bailey, who makes New York his home, will be riding his first Wood since 1994, when he finished second on Go for Gin. Bailey rides Blue Burner on Saturday.

New date helps Carter

For years, the Carter Handicap has been run on the first weekend of May, the closing weekend at Aqueduct. This year, New York Racing Association officials decided to move the Carter up three weeks and have it share billing with the Wood Memorial.

NYRA officials said they moved the race to help protect its Grade 1 status. When run on the first weekend in May, the Carter conflicted with the Churchill Downs Handicap run on Derby Day. Despite its status as a Grade 2, the Churchill Downs Handicap was attractive to horsemen who wanted to be in Kentucky for the Derby.

"We were losing out to the Churchill race, so to try and protect the Grade 1 we thought it might not conflict and this is probably the best spot to run it," said Andrew Byrnes, NYRA's stakes coordinator.

The Carter drew an outstanding 11-horse field, led by Grade 1 winners Snow Ridge, Affirmed Success, Burning Roma, and defending Carter winner Peeping Tom. Multiple stakes winners Say Florida Sandy, Dream Run, and Shibboleth add quality and depth to the field.

"If the Carter were on closing day at Aqueduct I don't think we would have gotten this kind of field," Byrnes said." It's in the best spot right now. It doesn't conflict with anything else except the Commonwealth at Keeneland. We got four Grade 1 winners. For a sprint race that's pretty good."

Left Bank aimed at Bold Ruler

One horse that didn't make the Carter was Left Bank, winner of last November's Grade 1 Cigar Mile. Trainer Todd Pletcher was hoping to make the Carter, but Left Bank suffered a bruised foot while training in Florida and his return has been delayed.

Now, Pletcher is pointing Left Bank to the Bold Ruler Handicap at Belmont on May 11. The Bold Ruler, a six-furlong race, had previously been run on Wood Day. Pletcher is hoping to use the race as a prep for the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont on May 27.

"He's going to need a start before that," Pletcher said. "He'll be ready around May 1, but there's not anywhere else to run him. If everything goes well, we'll run him back in the Met."

On Thursday, Left Bank breezed a half-mile in 49.25 seconds over Belmont's main track.

Aging millionaires seek immortality

Affirmed Success and Say Florida Sandy, a pair of 8-year-old millionaires, will try to make history in the $350,000 Carter Handicap, which will be run for the 102nd time on Saturday. Should either of them win the Grade 1 Carter, Affirmed Success or Say Florida Sandy would become the oldest Carter winner. He Did, 7 at the time of his victory in 1940, currently is the oldest winner.

Affirmed Success's trainer, Richard Schosberg, said it's amazing when an 8-year-old still can be competitive in Grade 1 races.

"He's one in a million," Schosberg said. "I don't expect to have another like him."

Affirmed Success became the oldest winner of the Toboggan last month.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson