By Perry Lefko
Jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva admits it will be an emotional day on Saturday when Woodbine Entertainment Group salutes him as he nears his retirement from racing.
The 44-year-old native of Brazil announced in late August he is hanging up his tack after a career that began in his native country and really took off when he came to Canada and began riding in 2004.
Da Silva has become the pre-eminent rider at Woodbine, winning the Sovereign Award as Canada’s top jockey the last four years and six times overall. He set a Woodbine meet record last year with 237 victories. And as he’s nearing the end, he’s been on a torrid pace. In a two-week period between November and October he’s posted two six-win days.
In October, he won the GI Woodbine Mile for the first time with Sam-Son Farm’s El Tormenta (Stormy Atlantic) at 44-1 odds. Last weekend, he won major stakes races at Woodbine, prompting at least one horseman to opine that da Silva may be retiring but at some point he will want to come back because he will miss riding too much. One of those victories was with Pink Lloyd (Old Forester), Canada’s Horse of the Year in 2017 and who has won 22 of 28 career races and earnings of $1.3 million. The horse has won six of seven races this year.
When asked by the Thoroughbred Daily News if there’s a possibility he will decide to make a return at some point, da Silva said: “We’ll see,” he said. “I can tell you I’m walking away 100% in my heart that I’m doing the right thing for myself and my family.”
He said as he nears the end, he wants to continue to finish strongly.
“It’s a lot of distraction right now emotionally, but I want to hold on to my focus until he last day and [keep] winning at 25%,” he said. “That’s really important for me.”
What’s surprising is that da Silva is retiring at the top of his game, similar to what Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders did–and never looked back. Da Silva’s said his decision to retire has been the evolution of a four-year process that he began when he started working with a mental coach who asked him how long he thought his body will be able to handle the rigors of riding. Da Silva said probably around the age of 45.
“The first year when I started thinking about retiring, it was very hard for me, very emotional,” he said. “I had my head down. I was very sad and I got home and my wife (veterinary surgeon Dr. Orlaith Cleary) asked me what happened and we talked about my retirement and I said ‘I just feel sad today.’ But I have to do what I have to do because when it gets to the time I’ll be ready.’
“I used to be able to ride 10 horses and the next day no problem, fully recovered. Now I ride eight, nine horses and it takes me two to three days to recover. And it’s so hard on the body–very, very hard–and it’s getting harder and harder for me.”
He said he’s really started to notice the effect riding has had on him psychologically when he is with his three kids–William, 7, Amelia, 3 1/2, and Isabelle, 1.
“When I was with my kids I started to realize I’m there with them, but I’m not there because my mind is just not there,” he said. “Even my son said, ‘Papa, it looks like you’re not here.’ That hurt me saying that.
“I was feeling weird and then I started thinking when am I going to retire?’ This started coming to my mind all the time.”
He said about seven months ago his mind was foggy, so he went to a lake near where he lives and did meditation and came to the realization it was time to retire.
“My mind just cleared up,” he said. “The fog went away and I said to myself, ‘I made the right decision.’ I feel relieved. This is the right decision. I was overloaded with so many thoughts about retirement. It was almost like some force made me make that decision. When I look back now, I say I made the right decision.”
He said when he told his wife about his plan to retire it took her a couple of weeks to understand his decision. He said she thought he might want to ride one more year.
“She said, ‘Are you sure you are going to be happy?'” he said. “She was afraid I’d get depressed after retirement, but I said no. I know what I’m doing and I have a plan and everything is going to be fine.'”
He is leaving a lot of money on the table because his mounts have won more than $8 million five of the last eight years and in excess of $7 million the last three years. Da Silva said he has never been motivated by money.
“It has never been and never will be,” he insisted. “I’m leaving a lot of money, but I’m going to gain a lot of love from my kids. When my kids grow up, in my heart I know I did everything right for them. If I stay here making the money, I know I can help them more with that, but the touch, the love, the time you put together with them…there’s no price.
“I want to be balanced in my life. What got me into mental work is I used to be an angry guy. I used to be up and down. I never could be stable. I said to myself, ‘why can I not be consistent?’ Then I started understanding I was a very angry guy. I went to a sports psychologist and thought it would be working about the sport. You know what, most of the work I did was really working on my anger.”
He is a certified life coach with the Canada Coach Academy and plans to work with high-performance professional athletes. He is already working with a basketball player and a tennis player. He plans to limit his clientele to 15 because he said it would basically be giving up one full-time job for another.
“I don’t want to get over busy. It’s a big responsibility,” he said.
Woodbine Entertainment Group has designated Saturday as Eurico Rosa Da Silva Day. He will sign autographs with fans and take photos. Woodbine will be offering t-shirts with da Silva’s popular catchphrase, “Good Luck To Everybody.” The first 250 fans to make a minimum donation of $5 to LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society will receive one of the t-shirts. The limited-edition t-shirts will also be available to purchase for $40 after the event.
Looking back at his career, da Silva is surprised how well he’s done and even more so how Woodbine has reacted to his decision to retire.
“I thought it was just going to be another job walking away and it’s not going to be a big deal,” he said. “I never expected Woodbine to treat me the way they’ve been treating me. I’ve always had a great friendship with Woodbine. I love Woodbine.”
He said winning the Queen’s Plate for the first time with Sam-Son Farm’s Eye of the Leopard (A.P. Indy) in 2009 made him truly appreciate what the race means to Canada. He won the race the following year with Big Red Mike (Ten Pins) for Terra Racing Stable.
“If I was walking away from the business and I hadn’t won the Queen’s Plate that would hurt me,” he said. “But knowing I’ve won two Queen’s Plates is special for me. When I came to Canada I didn’t know much about the race and the first thing I learned was about the Queen’s Plate and that it’s almost like a festival. I said, ‘Man, this is the race I want to win.'”