Panamanian Manny Ycaza, Hall of Fame Jockey, Is Dead at 80

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An obituary by Richard Sandomir for the New York Times.

Manny Ycaza, an intimidating jockey who was one of the first Latin American riders to succeed in the United States and, at the height of his career, won the 1964 Belmont Stakes, died on Monday in Forest Hills, Queens. He was 80.

His wife, Jeanne, said the causes were pneumonia and sepsis.

Growing up in Panama, Ycaza had grand ambitions. One day in 1957, as his career was beginning, he sat in a box seat watching the superstar jockeys Eddie Arcaro and Willie Shoemaker lead their horses onto the track at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., on Long Island.

“Once, when I am oh so little, I tell my mother that I shall one day be greater than the great Arcaro,” he told Sports Illustrated in an article published in 1960. “But I am not ready for this Belmont Park. The people here, they do not know Manuel Ycaza. These Belmont jockeys they are the velvet, and I am the corduroy.”

He became velvet. With 2,367 wins out of 10,561 mounts, he was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1977, joining his fellow Panamanians Laffit Pincay Jr. and Braulio Baeza as early members of a wave of Latin American jockeys.


“When I was a kid, he was like ‘the man,’ ” Pincay said in a telephone interview. “When I came to this country and got to meet him, it was really something; he was one of the greatest jockeys ever.”

Ycaza’s victory on Quadrangle in the 1964 Belmont Stakes — his sole Triple Crown triumph — foiled Northern Dancer’s attempt to win the Triple Crown after having won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. “I had to steady him along the inside at the clubhouse turn,” he said afterward about his ride, “but a hole opened up right away, and I said to myself, well, now we’re going to steal it, and we went through.”

Ycaza also won the Travers Stakes twice, the Kentucky Oaks four times and the so-called New York Filly Triple Crown — the Acorn Stakes, Mother Goose Stakes and Coaching Club American Oaks — aboard Dark Mirage in 1968.

But his tough, sometimes brazen riding style earned him many suspensions, totaling several hundred days.

At the 1962 Preakness, Ycaza, aboard Ridan, and John Rotz, riding Greek Money, were running head-to-head as they neared the finish line. Films showed Ycaza leaning into Rotz and sticking his left elbow into the path of Rotz’s torso. Greek Money nonetheless won, but Ycaza was suspended for 10 racing days (which was later reduced to 10 calendar days).


Five years later, while riding Dr. Fager, a top 3-year-old, to a comfortable victory in the Jersey Derby at Garden State Park, Ycaza was accused of herding his three rivals at the clubhouse turn, almost causing a spill. He was disqualified.

Ycaza flanked by his first wife, Linda, and the businessman and horse owner Harry F. Guggenheim, holding their firstborn child, on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan in 1963.CreditJ. 

He denied that he had done anything wrong, insisting that the other horses were bumping one another from the start. “They’re saying Ycaza is a bad fellow,” he said of the disqualification in The New York Times. “That’s not right. I know exactly what I’m doing on top of a horse.”

Carlos Manuel Mario De Ycaza Jr. was born on Feb. 1, 1938, in Panama City, one of 10 children of Carlos and Helena (Purniotis) De Ycaza. His father was a bus driver and amateur motorcycle racer; his mother was a homemaker.

He rode ponies and horses as a youngster and followed three of his brothers into racing. In an interview with the Kentucky Derby website in 2009, he recalled being told, “Come on, Manuel, be like your brothers!”

After a brief time racing in 1954 at Santa Anita Park, near Los Angeles, he returned to Panama. He then raced in Mexico City before returning to the United States. He shortened his name from De Ycaza to Ycaza to make it easier to pronounce.

By 1957 he was considered one of the hottest jockeys on the West Coast. That year he finished second at the Golden Gate Fields track in Berkeley, Calif., to the established Bill Hartack, who had already won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Ycaza’s career ascended through the 1960s. But he did not rebound from a spill at Hialeah Park in 1970, when he broke his left ankle and seriously injured his right knee. He tried several short comebacks, including one as a harness driver, but he did not recover his previous form.

“It became difficult to get mounts because trainers wanted younger jockeys,” his wife said.

While trying to rehabilitate in 1973, Ycaza accepted an offer from Brig. Gen. Omar Torrijos Herrera, Panama’s strongman, to be the country’s consul general in New York. He stayed in that position — which involved maritime registry, passports and troubleshooting — for a year.

In addition to his wife, Jeanne (Detwiler) De Ycaza, he is survived by his daughters, Carla and Lindita De Ycaza; his son, Carlos III; five grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and a sister, Yolanda Olaechea. His marriage to Linda Bement ended in divorce. He lived in Forest Hills.

Since his last race, in 1984, Ycaza had tended to real estate investments, made personal appearances and helped a charity for disabled jockeys.

His wife acknowledged that Ycaza used intimidation as a psychological tool to win races. But she insisted that he did not deserve all his suspensions.

“No matter what he did, he was going to get suspended,” she said.

Pincay said that it was easier in Panama to be as aggressive as Ycaza was because tracks there lacked cameras that picked up such behavior.

“It’s kind of tough coming from a place that’s as rough as it was in Panama to be a clean rider here,” he said. “He was so anxious to win.”

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