Updated on 09/15/2011 12:20PM

A tall order, even for Pat Day

Four-Footed fotos
Pat Day gets his 8,000th career victory Thursday at Churchill aboard Camden Park. If Day keeps winning at his current rate, he has a chance to catch Laffit Pincay Jr.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When Pat Day became just the third jockey to reach the 8,000-win milestone on Thursday, he served notice that he could ultimately become racing's all-time winningest rider.

Day downplays any notion that he is intent on becoming the leader. To do so, he likely would have to ride for as many as eight or more years, depending on when the current leader, 54-year-old Laffit Pincay Jr., decides to retire. But the question lingered after Day attained his 8,000th victory on Camden Park in sixth race Thursday at Churchill Downs.

"I don't have an answer to that," said Day, 47, when asked about catching Pincay. "If that's God's will, then that's what'll happen. But right now, I don't have any clue."

Day's more immediate target will come on Saturday, when he rides the hard-luck colt Dollar Bill in the 133rd Belmont Stakes. Dollar Bill, who went off as the second betting choice behind Point Given in the Kentucky Derby, finished 15th in the Derby and then fourth in the Preakness Stakes after troubled trips each time.

Dallas Stewart, who frequently employs Day and is the trainer of Dollar Bill, hasn't lost any confidence in Day.

"The way he's riding now, it looks like he'll be able to ride for a long, long time," Stewart said. "It's like he gets better every year."

Only Pincay, with 9,152 wins through Thursday, and Bill Shoemaker, who rode 8,833 winners before he retired in 1990, have won as many races as Day, whose total stood at 8,003 through Friday's seventh race at Churchill Downs.

The styles and hallmarks that have characterized the careers of the top three jockeys make for some interesting contrasts. Day, as was Shoemaker, is known for his uncanny patience and finesse. "I was blessed with natural ability and talent," Day said. "I have an innate ability to communicate with horses. I don't know how else to explain it."

His familiar sit-and-wait strategy occasionally drives trainers and horseplayers mad, but trainer Elliott Walden, who gave Day a leg up on Camden Park, said Day "has proven himself extremely successful with that style of riding. As many horses that he's won with, if you compare it with the horses he's gotten beat because of his patience, then I'm sure the ratio would be very much in his favor."

Pincay, whose career began in Panama in 1964, is known for his strength and determination. Day, said Pincay, reminds him of Shoemaker. "Pat is a sitting-still rider," Pincay said. "He always waits on the horses, and that is a different style than I do. I think I'm a little more aggressive, but I can wait, too."

Invariably, speculation turns to whether Pincay will outlast Day and Russell Baze and remain the winningest rider for many more years. While Pincay has averaged fewer than 200 wins per year since 1988, Baze, 42, has averaged well over 400 wins the past 10 years while dominating the northern California circuit. Although Baze, with nearly 7,400 career wins, trails Day by more than 600, he has been winning at the highest rate of the top three active riders in recent years.

Day, meanwhile, has averaged more than 250 wins per year for the last decade and shows few signs of slowing.

Pincay said he has no immediate plans to retire. "I know I'll keep riding as long as I'm riding good horses and I'm enjoying it," he said. "I don't really have any goals of when I'll stop. I'll probably ride for two or three more years, but I don't really know."

Pincay said he believed Day "could catch me sooner or later, and so could Russell Baze. They're both young and they ride a lot of races. It definitely could happen."

Baze said he believes Pincay is "going to set the bar high enough that it'll be hard for anybody to get by him. He's still going great guns."

Asked whether he would ride long enough to pass Day and Pincay, Baze said: "I suppose it's possible, but I'm not going to let that be my criteria. I'm going to ride as long as I still enjoy it and I'm capable of doing a good job. When one of those changes, then it'll be time to do something else. But I've got a good long stretch in front of me. Who knows? I might get close enough to do it one day."

Lynn Whiting, who trained Day's only Kentucky Derby winner, Lil E. Tee in 1992, said he believes Day could eventually be the all-time leader if he wanted it badly enough.

"It's a difficult thing to gauge," said Whiting. "Pincay has had a re-emergence, although you'd have to think Pat can keep surpassing him annually in wins. The thing is, Pincay's a moving target. And what do you do about Russell Baze? He's had carte blanche out there for years."

Whiting said that if Day, who in 1996 changed his winter circuit from Fair Grounds and Oaklawn to Gulfstream, "went back that way, he'd win more races. But I don't really think he's intent on going for a title like that. As long as he's riding quality horses, winning races, enjoying the game, he's going to keep doing what he's doing. I really don't believe that he thinks about the numbers."

The numbers are what makes the chase for leading rider so interesting. And to the delight of racing fans, it should be quite a few more years before all the numbers are in.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen.