Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Good Love To Everybody" - Woodbine Jockey Steps Up For LongRun

“Eu adoro-te,” coos Woodbine’s leading rider Eurico Rosa da Silva as he stands nose-to-nose with ex-Woodbine racer Seven on Friday. The Brazilian-born jock’s face is the picture of happiness and as he feeds peppermints to one of two retired horses he sponsors on behalf of LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society he continues to whisper sweet nothings in his native tongue.

Eurico Rosa da Silva and Seven on Friday Smooch!

For Seven on Friday, da Silva’s sponsorship is a ray of light in a world of shadows due to an unfortunate gate accident that rendered the horse permanently blind some seven years ago.

“Bobby Tiller and Norsemen had him,” explains LongRun chair Vicki Pappas. “When he was behind the gate he either shook his head so badly that he loosened his optic nerve or he struck his head on the gate. He was the last horse loaded in on the last race of the day and Todd Kabel was on him. When they came out of the gate, Todd realized something was wrong and he quickly pulled him up.”

Seven on Friday was pronounced blind by track veterinarians. Nancy O’Sullivan, a Woodbine backstretch worker, took sympathy and cared for the horse in the days following the race. In time, the gelding entered the LongRun program and was sent to noted horsewoman Gail Sim to prepare for life off the track.

“Look how happy he is,” grins da Silva while clasping the face of Seven on Friday with two strong hands and planting a kiss on his nose. It’s taken a long time to get this far. Many retired horses have to adjust to being taken off medication and the stress of daily training. For the blinded Seven on Friday, there was also a matter of trust.

Eurico makes a new friend

“When he first came here he didn’t want to be massaged or touched and he was just so timid,” says Sim whose Schomberg farm provides a foster home for several horses waiting for adoption. “I used to sit in his stall at night, just inside the door, and finally one day he came over and nuzzled me and I thought ‘okay, now we’re going to start’. He knows I’m not going to hurt him or ask anything bad of him.”

Over the years, more than 60 horses have come through the foster mom’s farm to prepare for a new life as show or riding horses. Some, such as Seven on Friday, are suitable to become companion animals.

“Part of our job here is allowing them to learn how to be part of a herd again and how to just be a horse again,” says Sim. “Really, there are very few demands placed on them here. They can’t be rude. But it’s really just a matter of let us take care of you, let us love you and find your own pecking order and be a horse again.”


Caring for horses can be expensive. Potential adopters would be responsible for food, bedding, vaccinations, foot care and de-worming, not to mention the cost of boarding a horse. And that’s where da Silva steps up on behalf of Seven on Friday and Dawn Watcher.

“I love horses and I think LongRun does such a good job,” says da Silva. “I’m more than happy to participate and help them out. Vicki does such a great job and the people from the LongRun really take care of these horses. You see today here how the horse looks so happy and I’m more than happy to help them out.”

Dawn Watcher is a stakes-placed veteran of 43 starts who banked close to $495,000 during his career for owners Gus and Nick Andreadis. When the grey gelding’s career ended due to a fractured sesamoid, the horse entered the LongRun program and has since benefitted from the sponsorship of many generous horse lovers, including breeders Jeff and Annabelle Begg, jockey Emma Jayne Wilson, who learned how to gallop on him, and the Woodbine jockey colony and their agents.

Dawn Watcher (right) and friend sandwich Eurico

LongRun staff are hoping that da Silva might be a good luck charm for the charismatic grey as the previous two horses sponsored by da Silva, Gandalf and Grand End Sweep, have both been adopted into loving, permanent homes. The generous jock isn’t particular about which horses he helps.

“Vicki said ‘this is your horse Eurico and gave me these two horses here’,” smiles da Silva. “And who knows, maybe somebody will adopt these two horses and then there will be another two I can support.”

As da Silva engages Dawn Watcher in his paddock, joy emanates through every one of the jockey’s movements. His eyes light up and his day-to-day stress - the grueling workouts, the 4AM wakeup calls each morning to exercise horses, and the constant call to eat right - washes off the rider’s chiseled frame.

“These horses were giving us their best. These horses are athletes and they put in a lot of effort for us and now they deserve a good home. For me it is important that they be happy, that they have a happy life and a happy retirement,” says da Silva. “When I retire I want to be happy and I want my horses to be happy too.”

Gail Sim has her hands full with Dawn Watcher

Under a warm August sun, Sim and da Silva focus their attention on Dawn Watcher. The jock asks how long it takes them to adjust from life at the race track.

“For most, it takes six months to adjust,” explains Sim.

“They’ll get groomed on the weekend,” says Sim to da Silva. “They love being groomed but it’s less about the grooming and more about the contact.”

“The love,” counters da Silva.

“Sometimes, they like it so much they fall asleep while I’m grooming them,” agrees Sim.


The jock leans forward and pushes his nose into Dawn Watcher’s long slender neck and breathes in deep. “I love the smell of the horse,” says da Silva quietly. “They smell different here on the farm.”

Just two friends, Sim and da Silva, sharing their love with a horse only too willing to receive.

“I want you to be happy,” says da Silva to his equine friend.

It is a moment rich with emotion and for this generous jockey, the horse is worth more than riches.

* * *

Originally posted in the September issued of Down The Stretch newspaper.

To help celebrate LongRun's 10th anniversary, the group is hosting a barbecue and hoe down on September 20th starting 5:30 p.m. at Woodbine Racetrack with a special appearance from Shaniah, a live tribute artist. The event also features line dancing, cash bar, 50/50 draw and more, with proceeds benefitting the society.

To order tickets, call 416-675-3993 ext. 3440. For information on LongRun or to browse horses up for adoption, visit LongRunRetirement.Com. I hope to see you at the event, but if you cannot attend please consider a small donation via PayPal (see the widget on the right margin of this blog or on the LongRun homepage) to honour these deserving horses.

Seven On Friday races for mints

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