Manny Ycaza, a Hall of Fame jockey who won the 1964 Belmont Stakes and paved the way for generations of Latin Americans to ride in North America, has died. He was 80.
Ycaza died Monday of pneumonia and sepsis at a hospital in Forest Hills, New York, according to his wife, Jeanne De Ycaza. She said he had been admitted a day earlier after the couple had gone for a walk.
He won 2,367 races from 10,561 mounts and rode such acclaimed thoroughbreds as Ack Ack, Damascus, Dr. Fager and Sword Dancer. He was aboard Quadrangle in the 1964 Belmont, spoiling Northern Dancer's Triple Crown bid. It was Ycaza's lone victory in a Triple Crown race.
He finished second on Ridan in the 1962 Preakness. A famous photo shows Ycaza sparring with jockey John Rotz on eventual winner Greek Money in the stretch run of the race.
Ycaza was second aboard Never Bend in the 1963 Kentucky Derby.
Ycaza rode most of his career on the East Coast, winning four riding titles at Saratoga in upstate New York.
He was a four-time winner of the Kentucky Oaks for fillies and the first back-to-back winner of the Washington D.C. International, in 1959 and 1960. He became the first Latino rider inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1977.
Ycaza developed a reputation as a hard-charging rider with a fiery temper who, despite his talent, was often in trouble with racing officials. He served major suspensions that affected his business, with many owners and trainers reluctant to use him.
"Manny was a really tough competitor. He kind of psyched the guys out," Jeanne De Ycaza said Tuesday. "Off the track, he was a most gentlemanly, most proper, kind and respectful person. It was real amazing how different he was."
Ycaza was hired by owner Harry F. Guggenheim in 1959, which led to a 10-year run of success. He also rode for Canadian owner and breeder E.P. Taylor. Ycaza won Canada's most prestigious race, the Queen's Plate, with Canebora in 1963.
In 1968, Ycaza rode Dark Mirage to the Triple Crown for fillies, sweeping the Acorn, Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks.
Oft-injured, Ycaza retired in 1971 before briefly trying his hand in 1977 as a driver in harness racing. He attempted a comeback with thoroughbreds in 1983 and1984.
Ycaza's success inspired others from Latin American to become jockeys and make their way to the United States, including fellow Panamanians Braulio Baeza, Laffit Pincay Jr., Jorge Velasquez, Jacinto Vasquez, Alex Solis and Rene Douglas. All but Douglas are in the Hall of Fame.
"All these great riders had so many different styles and made Panama so great," Solis said. "It's really amazing, and the guy who got it started was Manny Ycaza."
Born Carlos Manuel Mario De Ycaza Jr. on Feb, 1, 1938, in Panama, he was the son of a bus driver. He began riding horses at age 6. By 14, he was riding professionally in his country. He went on to ride in Mexico City before coming to the U.S. in 1956.
His wife said that after arriving in the U.S., he shortened his name to Ycaza, believing people would have trouble pronouncing the longer version.
She met Ycaza in 1973 when she interviewed him for a story about his position as honorary consul general of Panama. They soon began dating, and they married in 1982 in Fiji.
Besides Jeanne, he is survived by their daughter Carla, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Ycaza's first wife, Linda Bement, died in March. She won the Miss USA and Miss Universe titles in 1960, two years before she married Ycaza. The couple had two children, Manuel and Lindita, before divorcing in 1969.
A funeral will be held on Saturday in New York.