12/29/2005 12:00AM

Pincay waiting for next call


ARCADIA, Calif. - Racing's most squandered resource celebrated his 59th birthday on Thursday with a workout, a walk, a quiet afternoon, and dinner with the family.

That is pretty much business as usual for Laffit Pincay these days as he continues to watch for some kind of sign that might point him in the direction of a second career. He reads, goes to movies, visits his mother, works crosswords, shops, and lavishes attention upon his wife, Jeanine, and his son, Jean-Laffitte. Sometimes he even watches racing on TV, but mostly just to enjoy the work of his oldest son, Laffit Pincay III, as a commentator on Magna's HRTV racing channel.

Pincay has not ridden a horse since March 1, 2003, when he went down during a hillside grass race at Santa Anita, fracturing and compressing vertebrae in his neck and his back. More significantly - at least to Pincay - he has not felt the heady rush of winning a horse race since March 1, 2003, when he rode Seattle Shamus to victory in the second race of the day. That probably hurts more than his neck, because when you've been to the winner's circle 9,530 times, it gets to be a tough habit to break.

"We know he still misses it, and misses it bad, especially on the big days," said Laffit III. "But we also know how lucky he is. With that kind of injury, for all intents and purposes he should have been in a chair."

While his injuries suffered in 2003 preclude any return to the saddle, they would not prevent him from playing an active role in some aspect of the racing industry - if he is so inspired.

"Something would have to come up that he is genuinely intrigued and motivated by," Laffit III said. "But the thing that made him a great rider was that he was all jockey. And that was it. Now that he's not doing that, he still does things pretty much the same. Except for the fact that at 11 o'clock, instead of driving to the racetrack, he's at home.

"We were worried that he would get bored, and how he would handle it emotionally," Laffit III added. "But we've really been proud of how he has handled it, although I do sometimes wish he'd find a hobby."

Hopefully the game will call, sooner or later, and Pincay will be able to bring his class act back to the arena in some fashion.

Unfortunately, the current climate does not bode well for any particular California racetrack to take advantage of Pincay's lofty reputation. He is suing Santa Anita for negligence over the emergency care he received when he was injured. Hollywood Park is in its dying days, being run by a company anxious to tear it down for development. And Del Mar is a long way from Pincay's Arcadia back yard.

For his part, Pincay has no inclination to follow in the footsteps of Bill Shoemaker or John Longden as Thoroughbred trainers. Neither does he see himself as an agent, hustling book, like Angel Cordero or Jorge Velasquez. And while he might have the perfect mix of experience and temperament for a racing steward, passing judgment on the behavior of others goes contrary to Pincay's personality.

"He had such intense inner drive - so driven to compete," noted Dan Smith, former director of media and marketing at Del Mar and Bill Shoemaker's biographer. "You would think that drive would need to have some outlet. But it doesn't seem to be the case. The reason for that drive has been removed."

Smith suggested that the best use of Pincay's experience would be as a mentor, preferably through some kind of industry program backed by the California Horse Racing Board.

"I know for a fact that Laffit would be very willing to participate in a mentoring program," Smith said. "The game would benefit tremendously from his association with young riders."

One thing is certain: Pincay stands ready and willing to answer any call from the Jockeys' Guild, which is still in recovery from the management turmoil and transition from the era of its former president, Wayne Gertmenian.

"I'm hoping that with the new management the riders will stick together, because a lot of disabled riders depend on the Jockeys' Guild," Pincay said. "That is something that can happen to anybody, and we all need to take care of their needs."

In the meantime, it is the Pincay family that reaps the benefits of the retired Laffit in their midst, which is the way it should be, since he risked his life more than 48,000 times on their behalf.

"You know what he gave me for Christmas?" Laffit III said. "It was only the best present I've ever received in my life."

Keys to a Maserati? New wardrobe? Ski lodge in Vail?

"It was his Derby whip, the one he carried with Swale," Laffit III said. "It had been out of the family for something like 18 years. He had given it to a gentleman who passed away recently, and there was apparently some kind of custody battle over the whip between the guy's family and his wife. His wife was awarded the whip, and then she gave it to my dad when she saw him during Oak Tree last fall. He had it encased and engraved, and he gave it to me on Christmas Eve."