Woodbine’s leading rider, Eurico Rosa da Silva hadn’t pictured anything developing this way during his retirement ceremony at the track on Dec. 7: He found himself ass-over-tea-kettle in a bank of snow.
You get a group of jockeys together, shivering in the cold like winter flies, and all sorts of naughtiness can happen.
It all happened in the trackside winner’s circle, where the folks were all saying with an air of officialdom: “That Eurico, he’s a gent, we’re going to miss him.” And jockey Rafael Hernandez turned to his neighbour, fellow jock Emma-Jayne Wilson, and said: “Hey Emma, if we take this rail down, we could throw him in the snow.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” Wilson said. “Let’s do it!”
In the crowded winner’s circle, jammed with jocks and gate crew and outriders, few noticed the two jockeys scrambling to the rail, Wilson holding one end, Hernandez struggling to slide aside some plastic strips that bound the rail in place rather permanently, because no one was actually using this winner’s circle so late this season.
They succeeded and carried off the rail, creating a clear path to a snow bank created from shoveling out that winner’s circle from a recent snowfall.
“Nobody was noticing or paying attention,” Wilson said. “In some cases, it just doesn’t register. But a lot of people said: ‘We saw you walking up to Eurico, you and Raffi, and we could tell you were up to something.”
“When Raffi brought it up to me, I said: ‘Well, he can’t be more than 100 pounds,’” Wilson said. So a little group of enterprising jockeys, Hernandez, Wilson and Leo Salles, swarmed Da Silva from both sides, scooped him up and carried him toward the snow.
“It was very easy,” Wilson said. “I actually thought he’d put up more of a fight than he did.”
Into the snow went Da Silva, wearing only the silks used by the Entourage Stable, known as the colours that his best regular mount Pink Lloyd carries. Hernandez scooped more of the white stuff onto his head. Da Silva immediately jumped up from his bed of thorns in triumphant pose.
“We try to lighten it up every now and then,” Wilson said. “I think it was last year, [Gary] Boulanger had a birthday and we had a cake for him. Needless to say, most of it ended up on his face.
“We try to keep things enjoyable and play it up a little. Unfortunately, my man Jessie Campbell [just retired for the second time], has left. I used to scare the crap out of him all the time. It’s good-natured fun. You’ve got to enjoy it. We’re in here all the time. You’ve got to enjoy it. We’re competing against each other all the time so sometimes you try to lighten it up and have a bit of fun.”
All that being said, will Wilson miss Da Silva, like so many others?
“From a personal side, I will,” she said. “He’s been a mainstay in the room for a long time. A successful jockey and he works hard. From a professional side, he’s a fierce competitor that I don’t have to compete against any more. “
So competitive that Da Silva has been a trailblazer since he came to Canada to ride in 2004, after stints in his homeland of Brazil and in Macau. “It seems like there is only one jockey here,” said a track worker who has watched Da Silva every day. Last year, he had a spectacular win percentage of 27.69 per cent. This year, he’s been clicking along at 24.65 per cent.
Compare that to the best in North America? Leading rider Irad Ortiz has a 21 per cent win average; his brother Jose, is at 19 per cent; Javier Castellano, 21 per cent; Joel Rosario, 20 per cent; Flavian Prat comes closest at 23 per cent; John Velasquez, 18 per cent; Luis Saez, 19 per cent; Richard Santana Jr., 17 per cent; Manny Franco, 17 per cent.
Nobody among the top 50 riders in North America matches Da Silva’s 60 per cent average of finishing in the money this season.
Three times this season, Da Silva has enjoyed six-win days – on April 28, Oct. 20 and Nov. 3.
This is not to mention his other achievements: five-time leading Woodbine rider, six-time Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s most outstanding jockey, (2010, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.) He won back to back Queen’s Plates in 2009 (Eye of the Leopard) and 2010 (Big Red Mike).
Last year he won a record 237 races, upending a 27-year record held by Mickey Walls. This win total meant he was 10th in North America.
In 2017, he won 34 stakes races, just falling two short of the Woodbine record.
In 2017, he pulled off a huge upset to win the Grade 1 Canadian International Championship Stakes with Bullard’s Alley, unheralded at 42 to 1, by a record 10 ¾ lengths. Only one win escaped him up to this final season, a win in the Woodbine Mile – and he did it with El Tormenta.
So how could he leave at age 44, at the top of his game, leaving so much money on the table? He says he wants to spend more time with his family, his wife and three young children.
Wilson understands this decision. She has two young daughters, almost three years old. “I respect him for making the decision he has done in regards to the timing,” she said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to make that decision, much less even contemplate if you are even ready to be done. It’s never crossed my mind. I think it’s a difficult thing.”
Others who have left, have returned. So forgive everybody for thinking that Da Silva might be back, too. “I don’t know how many jocks in the last couple of years have retired here and they have come back in action,” Wilson said. “I do think it’s a testament to the competitive nature of the game, how fierce competitors we all are.
But it’s a lifestyle too, the hours it takes, especially to be at the top. “You give up a lot,” she said. “I’m noticing now myself. I have a new family.”
Wilson puts the girls to bed on a Thursday night and from Friday morning to Sunday evening, she’s in full riding mode. “I might be lucky to see them before Monday morning,” she said. “Just with the times they have to go to bed and the times I have to go to work. It’s a little nicer now. We’re into the winter season and we’re not breezing as many horses in the morning.”
Da Silva seems steadfast in his decision. He gets emotional at times, with the end coming nigh. He was just that when he rode Pink Lloyd to a smashing come-from-way-behind win in the Kennedy Road Stakes recently. His voice caught, when he thought it was his last ride with the former Horse of the Year. His usual “Good luck to everybody!” didn’t roll off his tongue that day.
On Dec. 7, he was emotional, too. “I have no words to explain how I feel,” he said, just before the snow dunking. “I tried not to cry. All I want to say is that nobody does it by yourself…I work with great people. It’s teamwork.
“You guys have been wonderful for me. My time has come and it’s time for me to walk away. But good luck to everybody!”
Da Silva will continue to ride until Woodbine’s closing day on Dec. 15. There’s still time to catch the magic of this guy who bounced back out of a snow toss.