Manny Ycaza, the Hall of Fame jockey who was among the first generation of Latin American riders that came to dominate the upper echelons of the sport and whose colorful and aggressive riding style endeared him to racing fans but less so to the officials of his era, died in a New York hospital Monday after taking ill over the weekend. He was 80.
A native of Panama, from which later sprang such outstanding talents such as Braulio Baeza, Laffit Pincay Jr., Jorge Velasquez, Jacinto Vasquez, and Alex Solis, Ycaza diligently worked his way up the ladder of American racing in the late 1950s and early 1960s employing what could be delicately described as a “win by any means” strategy.
While that style found favor with the $2 railbirds in New York, California, and elsewhere, it was not so appreciated by fellow riders. As Bill Leggett wrote in a 1962 profile of Ycaza in Sports Illustrated:
“There have been times, many times, when Manuel Ycaza has been a little too all out to win. He has been accused by his fellow jockeys, and found guilty by the stewards, of rough and careless riding; of pinching horses back and swerving in front of his field. He has, on occasion, turned horse races into rodeos. There are some jockeys who do not like Manuel Ycaza because at one time or another he has blocked them or herded them or bumped them while trying to beat them.”
A prominent example was the 1962 Preakness when Ycaza, aboard Ridan, who was engaged in a prolonged stretch duel with Greek Money, elbowed jockey John Rotz’s chest to gain an advantage in deep stretch. When Greek Money prevailed in a photo-finish, it was Ycaza who frivolously claimed foul for interference. Upon review of the films, the stewards discovered Ycaza’s misdeeds and set him down for 10 days.
That was a common occurrence for Ycaza, who might have been among the most penalized jockeys of all time for infractions on the racetrack. In addition to the numerous injuries incurred by Ycaza at the prime of his career, he was constantly reprimanded by stewards when appeals, successful or not, were a rarity. Published reports at the time indicate Ycaza cumulatively spent the equivalent of more than two calendar years suspended.
Nonetheless, Ycaza will be remembered more fondly for his successes aboard some of the best horses of his era. He won the 1959 Travers with Horse of the Year Sword Dancer and the 1959 and 1960 Washington D.C. International on champion Bald Eagle, the latter for Capt. Harry F. Guggenheim’s Cain Hoy Stable, for whom he later rode champion juvenile Never Bend and future Horse of the Year Ack Ack.
Never Bend was one of nine mounts Ycaza had in the Kentucky Derby. Never Bend ran second in 1963 to Chateaugay, his best finish. He finished third three times, including with Ridan, and fifth in 1969 aboard reigning juvenile champion Top Knight.
Ycaza never won the Preakness either, but registered his only classic success in the 1964 Belmont Stakes, guiding Quadrangle to victory over the Triple Crown-seeking Northern Dancer. The latter was one of a long string of Hall of Famers Ycaza won stakes aboard at one time or another, including Dr. Fager, Damascus, Fort Marcy, Gamely, and Bowl of Flowers. Other champions Ycaza enjoyed success with include Intentionally, Hawaii, Lamb Chop, Regal Gleam, Roman Brother, and Smart Deb.
Fifty years ago this summer, Ycaza was the regular rider for the diminutive three-year-old champion filly Dark Mirage, on whom he captured the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn, Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks, Monmouth Oaks, and Delaware Oaks. Dark Mirage was one of four winners of the Kentucky Oaks ridden by Ycaza, a stakes record he shares with contemporary Eddie Arcaro.
Injuries forced Ycaza to retire in 1971, though he made a brief comeback a decade later. He rode 2,367 winners. Awarded the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1964, Ycaza was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Ycaza is survived by his wife, Jeanne, and three children. Funeral arrangements are pending.
A selection of Ycaza’s most famous rides:
1959 Travers (Sword Dancer)
1964 Belmont Stakes (Quadrangle)
1967 Washington D.C. International (Fort Marcy)