By Don Landry for WoodbineEntertainment.com
TORONTO, April 18 - If you ask jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva what keeps him in a joyful state of mind, he'll have a number of answers for you, as would we all. But there is one thing in particular that he finds can really fill his soul; Wrapping his arms around a big, hairy neck and pulling in tight for a squeeze.
“I love hugging horses," da Silva says, drawing out the word "love" as he speaks. "I hug horses all the time. That’s my favourite thing to do.”
Well, that and occasionally landing a kick to the head of an opponent in a martial arts class. “If you get a good kick in, they’re going to drop,” da Silva says, his exuberance only slightly lowered from that of horse-hugging levels.
For da Silva, Woodbine's top jockey in 2016 with 202 wins, hugging horses and honing his Taekwondo skills are just part of what keeps his mind fit and his spirit hungry for more mounts. More victories. Balance is a crucial element to any winning ride for a jockey. Da Silva extends that focus to his time away from the track, leading him to fill his life with good books, trips abroad and more hugs - those from his wife and kids. Balance is also something that has led him to striking out - literally - as a devoted student of the martial arts.
Eurico training for the season opener... (Courtesy of Chris Young)
Martial arts entered da Silva's life nine years ago, when a friend suggested it was something that would be good not only for his physical fitness, but also his psychological well-being, with its focus on self-discipline. Da Silva gave it a shot and was hooked, zeroing in on one martial art in particular.
“Taekwondo is almost a religion to me," da Silva says. "That’s where I get my discipline, respect and my self worth. And then you learn how to respect everybody.”
That type of discipline has been valuable, he says, providing him with an outlet for any frustrations as well as the building blocks for even more self-assurance. “Best decision ever,” he says of the day he walked into his first class. Taekwondo, he says, has allowed him to re-frame his attitudes towards such things as the occasional dispute in the jockeys' room, which he now terms a "waste of time."
“You kick a lot,” da Silva says, gleefully, describing what he likes about the physical aspects of Taekwondo.
The two-time Queen's Plate winner (Eye of the Leopard in 2009, Big Red Mike in 2010) is in ebullient form as he talks about horse hugs and roundhouse kicks and that is not surprising, considering the 41-year-old native of São Paulo, Brazil is well-known for his bouncy nature. He's charged up and ready to tackle the field again, after taking Woodbine's jockey title by more than sixty wins in 2016. “I feel like I’m starting my life when I get back to the track,” da Silva says.
It was just a few days earlier that he'd returned to the backstretch at Woodbine, jumping aboard for morning workouts once again, a winter of contentment having filled him to the brim with patented da Silva energy.
“When I came back out... I’m so happy to be working every day," he gushes. "So happy.”
Eurico....focused. (Courtesy of Chris Young)
That well-displayed cache of energy is something da Silva knows is not harvested from never-ending reserves and he makes sure he knows how to top those reserves up. Although he is just naturally drawn to some of his outside interests, da Silva is also conscious of finding time for them in order to fill his tanks, aware of the importance of rest and rejuvenation, even if Woodbine is one of his favourite places on earth to be.
“In the winter, I disconnect from racing," he explains. "I don’t think about the races at all.”
So what does he think about? What keeps da Silva interested, entertained and busy during the off-season? A lot, it turns out.
“I read a lot," says da Silva, when asked how he likes to spend the winter months. "I focus on my kids. I travel.”
This past off-season was a busy one for da Silva, who got married to Dr. Orlaith Cleary, the veterinary surgeon whom he'd met at the Sovereign Awards gala back in 2015. Together, the couple welcomed a newborn daughter, Amelia, who is now seven months old, adding her to a family that includes young William, da Silva's soon to be five-year-old son from a previous marriage.
“They always have something for you to do," da Silva says wryly of the kids. "They keep you busy.”
Eurico chasing his goals... (Courtesy of Chris Young)
So does reading. Da Silva describes himself as a man with a big appetite for the written word. “I like spiritual books and psychology books," he says. "I just love reading. I read almost everything. Philosophy, some biographies.”
Da Silva is not reading lightweight stuff, either. Asked what book he picked up most recently, he describes a detailed read into a years-long investigation and prosecution of corruption cases in his native Brazil, a book called "Lava Jato." He'd also been reading "The Mastery of Love," based on the teachings of ancient Toltec wisdom.
Even with a newborn in the house, traveling remains a big part of da Silva's life. This year, there were trips to Brazil as well as Costa Rica, Macau and his wife's homeland, Ireland. “I really love travelling," says da Silva, musing about one day seeing the likes of Italy, Germany and Spain. As well as Canada. Much, much more of Canada.
“I just love Canada,” da Silva says effusively, noting that he's aware that trips across this vast nation are generally better suited for the warmer weather. So those will have to wait. “When I retire I’m going to go all over Canada," he says. "That’s my goal. Canada is beautiful."
Seeing the world. A beautiful home life. A good book. Landing a kick. All are parts of what keeps Eurico da Silva balanced and energized and, ultimately, winning.
Happiness is all that, topped off with a nice horse hug.