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Eurico Da Silva, one of the greatest jockeys in Woodbine history, plans to walk away from the sport after this season

Some time in the second week of December, Woodbine jockey Eurico Da Silva is going to smile, look at the camera and say, “Good luck to everybody!” for the last time.

It’s Da Silva’s catchphrase after he wins a big race and it’s one of the things that’s endeared the Brazilian-born jockey to the fans at Woodbine Racetrack.

But, shockingly, after this season, they’ll hear it no more. Da Silva, who has been racing at Woodbine full-time since 2004 and has been the leading rider the past four seasons, told the Toronto Sun this week he plans to retire when the current season ends on Dec.15.

At 44, the personable jockey isn’t a fresh-faced pup anymore, but he is still on top of his game, still one of the best riders in the business and still winning a lot of big stakes. Just last year, Da Silva won a record 237 races, breaking Mickey Walls’ record of 221 wins in a single Woodbine meet set back in 1991. He has won six Sovereign Awards as Canada’s Outstanding Jockey, and was a part of the Horse of the Year campaigns by Pink Lloyd (2017), Up With the Birds (2013), Biofuel (2010) and Fatal Bullet (2008). This season, with about half the 2019 meet to go, Da Silva is second in the jockey standings with 72 victories, seven behind leader Rafael Hernandez, though Da Silva is leading in the earnings department with $4.1 million compared to $3.9 for Hernandez.

“But it’s not about the money,” said Da Silva. “It’s about family.”

Most star athletes retire because they can’t perform at a level to which they’re accustomed or because of injury problems. But in Da Silva’s case, it’s all about spending more time with his wife, veterinary surgeon Dr. Orlaith Cleary, son William (seven) and daughters Amelia (three) and Isabelle (nine months).

“I grew up without family pretty much,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen to my kids. These days are long hours, and I’m tired.”

Da Silva remembers far too many times when he was with his son at the park on an off-day and his cellphone would ring unremittingly as he and his agent (Tom Patton) tried to figure out his upcoming mounts. Often in the morning, even on race days, Da Silva is at the Woodbine backstretch exercising horses. It makes for very long, exhausting days. Still, Da Silva said a lot of his fellow jocks were shocked when he told them this would be his final season at the Rexdale track.

“They surprised me,” he said. “They said, ‘No, don’t do that. Ride for one more year.’ ”

It’s a sentiment Da Silva said he understands, even though his retirement would ultimately mean more money for the other riders.

“When other jocks here have retired, I felt empty. I miss them,” he said. “Gerry Olguin’s stall was beside me in the (jockey’s room). I miss him a lot.”

Olguin retired in 2017 after picking up his 2,000th win.

Horse racing is a complicated game. The competition for mounts is fierce, as is the actual racing. But Da Silva is pleased that throughout his years racing thoroughbred horses — starting in his native Brazil, then four years in Macau before switching to Woodbine in 2004 — he developed lasting friendships in the jockey’s room.

“I have a lot of respect for everyone in there,” he said. “Put it this way: Anyone in there, we can go in a race and maybe we don’t come back. This is a very risky business. And you don’t want to have a beef with anybody and then something happens.”

Da Silva will walk away with a great many wonderful memories. He won Canada’s Classic race, The Queen’s Plate, twice — 2009 on Eye of the Leopard for trainer Mark Frostad and Sam-Son Farm and, the next year, aboard Big Red Mike for conditioner Nick Gonzalez and Terra Racing Stable. The second win sticks out because he met the Queen in the Winner’s Circle afterward. Da Silva has won pretty much every major stakes at Woodbine over the years, including the Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International in 2017 on Bullards Alley and captured the World All-Star Jockeys Challenge title in Japan the same year. But he said the best part of being a jock is the people he’s met over the years, horse-racing types and fans.

Perhaps his greatest fan was Alexandrea Tersigni, who was born with a series of health problems that had plagued her since birth, including cerebral palsy, seizures, circulatory problems, lupus and Tourette’s syndrome. Tersigni and her family became very close to Da Silva and her death in 2015 still hurts to this day. He becomes very emotional talking about his friend.

“One reason I will always return to Woodbine is to come here,” he said on Monday afternoon, pointing toward the finish line. “So I can be close to Alexandrea.”

After Tersigni passed away, a ceremony was held that included a moment of silence and a prayer by Woodbine chaplain Shawn Kennedy. Tersigni’s ashes were then spread over the E.P. Taylor Turf course.

Da Silva said he has been preparing for his retirement for four years and planning for his next career as a life coach for athletes, helping them cope with the various pressures that comes with being an elite athlete. He also wants to spend more time in his garden at the family home in Campbellville. But, until then, the track beckons.

“I will give everything I have this last four months,” said Da Silva. “I have the determination. Until Dec.15, I will be open to ride any horses and do my very best. Now it’s time for me to give back what they’ve always given me.”


Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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