06/12/2003 11:00PM

Recovering nicely at Casa Pincay


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Another Father's Day has arrived. Let the unwrapping of the bad ties begin. Word of advice, however. If dad wants to just sit around the family room, watching the U.S. Open or the New Jersey Nets, or spend the afternoon going through the "Die Hard" series on DVD, leave him alone. He'll be in seventh heaven.

That pretty much describes the agenda around the Laffit Pincay household these days. The lord of the manor is still on the mend, wearing a rigid neck brace to support the potentially paralyzing injuries sustained in his career-ending fall at Santa Anita last March 1, and limiting his activities accordingly.

"My doctor wants me to wear this for two more weeks," Pincay said. "But I get to take it off for an hour every day - I have it off right now - and I'll tell you it feels pretty good."

If Pincay has any physical complaints at all, it is the lingering pain between his shoulder blades, where he fractured the T-7 vertebra in the fall, in addition to the multiple fractures of the C-2 vertebra in his neck.

Not that he was going to go rock climbing or windsurfing anyway.

"I've just been relaxing in the house," Pincay said. "Jeanine" - his wife - "and I went to Las Vegas last week. That was fun. Am I bored? Not really. I've been watching a lot of TV, a lot of movies. Jean-Laffit likes me around. He says I'm a better dad now. But he misses the racetrack. When I retired, he was worried that he wouldn't be going anymore. I told him we'd go sometimes."

Fortunately, Pincay's 9-year-old son has things like school and blades and his computer games to fill the time. Pincay, on the other hand, is looking forward to . . . what? A youthful 56, his retirement picture is up in the air. Right now, he is still counting his blessings that the neck injury was not more severe.

"After I take the brace off, I think I'll have to do some therapy," Pincay said. "Then Jeanine and I will decide what we want to do. Maybe take a trip. Go someplace special."

In the meantime, he is being approached about book deals and documentaries, and offers for special appearances. He turned down a promotional trip to his native Panama ("Too hot, especially with this neck brace"), but Pincay will be at Lone Star Park next Friday as the honored guest for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association All-Star Jockey Challenge. As always, he pays heed to his fitness, even though there are no longer the physical demands of his job.

"I do a lot of walking, trying to keep my weight down," he said. "I don't have as much appetite as I used to, and I don't get the cravings I used to. I have probably gained five or six pounds. Some of my tight pants don't fit anymore."

Pincay has not been to the racetrack since May 9, when he appeared at Hollywood Park for a fund-raiser. When it comes to watching races on television, he is only an occasional viewer.

"I try not to watch too many," Pincay said. "But I was hoping for a Triple Crown, and I was really rooting for Jose Santos. I wanted him to be the first Hispanic jockey to win the Triple Crown."

Funny Cide's exploits brought back memories for Pincay. Back in 1991, when he was riding a rock-ribbed turf mare named Miss Josh, the rider kept looking at the trainer, a fellow named Barclay Tagg, and wondering where he had seen the guy before. It was an itch he couldn't scratch.

"Miss Josh was a running sonofagun," Pincay said. "Every time I rode her she was tough, and she was ready. The only time she didn't run a good race, she still won. I'll tell you - that guy is a good trainer.

"And I knew that I knew him from someplace," Pincay went on. "I knew I'd seen his face. I couldn't place him where, though. Even though they told me later that he had been a steeplechase rider, it never dawned on me where I might have met him."

As it turned out, Pincay first met Tagg under fairly predictable circumstances - in a jockeys' room. The Belmont Park jockeys' room, to be precise, sometime in the latter part of the 1960's, when Pincay was a young gun fresh from Panama and Tagg was a lanky jump rider. Tagg remembers the encounter as if it happened yesterday.

"I was at Belmont for a race and they had me dress right next to Laffit," Tagg recalled last week between Funny Cide press conferences. "He saw me come out of the box - I usually had to pull about 10 pounds - and he reached into his cubicle for a bottle of pills. He told me, 'Here, take one of these right now.' It was potassium."

Mystery solved.

"I remember those guys in the jocks' room, those jumping guys," Pincay said. "And I remember his face now. He was a very skinny guy. What they do, those steeplechase riders are crazy, crazy for sure."

Yeah, right. If they're not careful, they're liable to get hurt.