If Laffit Pincay Jr.'s career is made up of a million small battles waged in the name of determination, skill, and endurance, then his victory aboard Men's Exclusive in the $100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes (gr. III) will be emblazoned in the mind forever. It was one of those rare, ineffable instances when sport permeates the soul, spawning the notion that despite the figures and the odds, the elements and acting influences, there is an energy--an uncanny, yet romantic force--that brings forth perfect endings.
When measured against other feats of yesteryear, the Underwood -- the 9,029th win of Pincay's celebrated career-- may be no different than most of the 9,028 before it or the countless triumphs that are destined to follow. It surely won't compare to races like the immortal performance of Personal Ensign in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) or the fitting Kentucky Derby (gr. I) moments for those like Frances Genter, Paul Mellon, and Charlie Whittingham.
But consider this: First, Pincay was riding Men's Exclusive, a 7-year-old gelding who for all his efforts sported just a single win over the past three years. Next, the man is about to turn 54, an age at which world-class athletes rarely compete, let alone with flair. And circumstances put the Underwood at the end of a vacant period for Pincay, the result of a recent five-day suspension. Men's Exclusive was his only mount all week.
But what gave the six-furlong Underwood an almost ethereal feel was its timing. It just happened to fall on Dec. 10, the same calendar date that a year ago saw Pincay surpass Bill Shoemaker as the winningest rider in racing history. Hollywood Park rolled out the red carpet for the anniversary of No. 8,834, proclaiming the afternoon as Laffit Pincay Jr. Day. They couldn't have been more right.
It was a day of redemption, as well. A homebred son of Exclusive Ribot, Men's Exclusive was once regarded well enough to go favored in the '97 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I). A sixth-place finish behind Elmhurst that day commenced an almost unendurable spell for owner/breeder Gene Reed and trainer Wesley Ward. Hampered by sensitive feet, Men's Exclusive hit a major drought.
Despite the protracted troubles, however, Ward felt Men's Exclusive was primed for a big run in the Underwood. While Straight Man and Lexicon disputed things early on, Pincay kept the eager gelding off the heat before showing up near the quarter pole. Turning for home, they moved in for the kill.
With pure ease, Men's Exclusive passed the tiring Straight Man, then steps later rolled by Lexicon. Acting half his age, he was three lengths ahead at the finish, his 1:09.02 clocking superb considering the slow times rendered by the course of late.
Approaching eight, Men's Exclusive looks to have a new lease on life. Pincay, on the other hand, sometimes appears to be divine. He's almost beyond human, one of another breed.
Some things, it seems, are just meant to be.