1987: Laffit's Lucky Seven
It is a given that jockeys will have days where they win multiple races on a program. Some days will see a rider score a double, possibly a triple. And then there are days where they make four or five trips to the winner's circle. As the old saying goes, when you're hot, you're hot.
But then there are those rare occasions where a rider simply dominates a program, owns it. No one else can tap into that zone from first post to the finish of the nightcap. Such an occurrence is something truly sublime and special.
And this is exactly what tens of thousands of fans saw at Santa Anita on the afternoon of March 14, 1987.
It was the middle of Santa Anita's 50th season, and by that time, Laffit Pincay, Jr.'s place in Thoroughbred racing was confirmed. The Panama native owned a plethora of riding titles and Eclipse Awards, had led the nation in earnings several times, was a Kentucky Derby winner, and had been inducted into the Hall of Fame more than a decade earlier. He was going to go down as an all-time great, but he was by no means finished yet. There were more victories and milestones to be achieved, and he happened to get one of each on this particular Saturday.
Going into Santa Anita's nine-race card, Pincay had a busy day ahead of him. Booked to ride in every race but the opener, he got into the win column early. Piloting post time favorite Polly's Ruler in the second, Pincay and his mount took charge of the pace early to capture the six and one-half furlong contest. He came right back in the third with Texas Wild, who tracked the leader before taking over to win going a mile and one-sixteenth. It was already a good day by virtue of snagging an early double, but Pincay was just warming up.
What the fans in attendance saw next was complete domination. No one could touch Pincay during the middle part of the card, for he swept the fourth (Cracksman), fifth (Fairways Girl), sixth (Lookinforthebigone) and seventh (Integra) races of the day. This put him in some rare, but not unfamiliar, territory. With six victories thus far, Laffit matched the record for most victories in a day at Santa Anita. He had done this once before, equaling Bill Shoemaker's mark all the way back in 1973 (Shoemaker had accomplished it in 1962). But the two legends were not the only ones to be in the six-win club. Steve Valdez (1973), Sandy Hawley (1976) and Darrel McHargue (1978 and 1979) had all gained membership since Pincay first won six in a day at Santa Anita.
To do so once was certainly noteworthy, and to do it twice was something reserved for very few riders. But the March 14 program was not yet finished. And neither was Pincay.
The streak was halted in the eighth race, which was the day's featured event. Bill Shoemaker guided Rosedale to a win in the San Marino Handicap, but Pincay still had a good showing with a third aboard Bob Back. That left the ninth race, which gave Pincay one more chance for the record. The contest was a claiming event, but it stands as one of the biggest finales to a program in Santa Anita history.
Aboard Bedouin in the ninth, Pincay found himself last early on in the mile and one-sixteenth excursion. But it was Laffit's day, and none of the Thoroughbreds and jockeys in that race were going to stop him and Bedouin. The duo rallied from off the pace on the main track as the cheers of thousands grew louder with every second. Charging on the outside, Bedouin got up to win by about a length, making Pincay the first rider to win seven races in one day at Santa Anita. No one has equaled it since, and very few have even come close to it. Since that time, only four riders have approached that number by winning six on a program: Patrick Valenzuela (1988), Martin Pedroza (1992), Corey Nakatani (2000), and Rafael Bejarano (2006).
Aside from the fact that it was unprecedented, the record showed just how good Pincay was. He was a winner on both the dirt and turf courses, as well as sprinting and routing. He and his mounts won from taking the early lead, staying within a couple of lengths from the front, or rallying from off the pace. What's more, Pincay did not ride the favorite in every race. In fact, only a couple of his horses went off as the chalk, and two of his winners paid between $10 and $20 to win. In total, Pincay's horses produced an overall win payout of $63, which yielded an average of $9 per winner.
Interestingly enough, one of those winners brought a little bit of irony to the day's action. Pincay's steed in the sixth race, Lookinforthebigone, lived up to his name. Of all his jockey's mounts, he delivered the highest win payout with $18.40.
And the finishes? Pincay experienced a little bit of everything that day. Some of the victories came by daylight, others by more than a length, and the rest came down to a photo! But collectively, each win combined to forge one of the most notable all-around performances ever in a Santa Anita program. Pincay could get the job done from anywhere and on any surface, and whether it was a claiming, allowance or stakes race, he rode to win.
Countless fans saw the greatness of Laffit Pincay, Jr. for years before his seven-win day in 1987. But for those who happened to watch him live as he added a new record to his extensive resume, they saw something other than greatness, something even more rare.
They found themselves in the presence of a virtuoso who showed in many ways why he was one of racing's elite.
Four riders have approached that number: Santa Anita 2020 Winter Media Guide, pg. 117