By Jon Lees
Canada: At the end of 2019 while still at the peak of his success, seven-time Sovereign Award-winning jockey Eurico Rosa Da Silva walked away from the sport.
Having captured all of Woodbine’s most prestigious races, including two Queen’s Plates, the Brazilian wanted to give something back by becoming a life coach.
That he is qualified to forge a second career as counsellor to a growing client base of jockeys, trainers, golf and basketball players is in large part to the dark secrets he kept locked away in his head for most of his adult life.
For the trauma of growing up under an abusive father in a small farming community in Brazil led Da Silva to develop an addiction to sex and gambling, question his sexuality and contemplate suicide.
No matter how many ‘Eurico’ moments he enjoyed on the track in a career of 2,286 North America wins, or repeated his ‘Good Luck To Everybody’ catchphrase, he was struggling with a mental torment that eased only when he reached out for help.
“I went through a trauma when I was a kid, when I was three years old,” he says. “It was tough for me to see what I saw. That cost me my entire life. My father really abused me mentally, and my brother also.
“So I left home when I was 13 years old. You think you leave everything behind but that’s not the case. You feel guilt, you feel shame about yourself, and you carry that for life.”
Da Silva, 45, reveals his story in his autobiography Riding For Freedom, lifting the lid on an area of his life no one outside his immediate family had known about.
Personable and seemingly implacable on the outside, inside was a burning anger that had raged since his childhood in Buri, two hours from Sao Paulo, where he witnessed his father Jose rape his 13-year-old babysitter. Da Silva was just three.
“I used to feel shame about that because I thought it was my fault,” says Da Silva. “I used to think if I wasn’t born she would never have been abused because I wouldn’t have been there.”
Learning to ride donkeys in Buri fuelled a dream of becoming a jockey, so Da Silva left home for Itapetininga to work for a trainer, eventually entering jockey school at Hipodromo Cidade Jardim in Sao Paolo, where aged 17 he became champion apprentice.
Success and money brought him female admirers but, having been so belittled by his father he says he believed the taunts that he was a fraud and a failure and incapable of conducting a lasting relationship. Spurning the advances he instead spent his time in night clubs, getting drunk and paying for sex. Gambling helped fund it all.
Determined to put a stop to his shabby lifestyle he decided to leave Brazil and, when denied a visa to work in the US, headed to the gambling mecca of Macau.
Little changed, he says. “I had the problem everywhere I went,” he explains. “I dreamt everything was going to be okay for me. That’s why I kept moving but that was not the case. The problems came with me.
“When I was in Brazil and Macau gambling was part of my life,” Da Silva goes on. “I’d live with the race programme in my pocket, studying form, watching videos and seeing how horses were running for me to gamble on.
“The sex came when I was off the track and I was on my own. I didn’t know how to go to a golf course and enjoy myself, or even just go for a walk. All I wanted to do was screw around. I would go and find a hooker. Macau was sex and gambling. It is a paradise for that, if people want that.”
Da Silva continued even while dating and after marrying his first wife, Claudia, in Macau and – despite being advised to pursue therapy after visiting a psychologist for the first time on a trip back to Brazil – he failed to act on that advice when he relocated to Canada in 2004.
Based at Woodbine he rode 49 winners in his first season, but eventually returned to his old ways, setting up trysts with prostitutes after a 12-hour day at the track. Even as he gradually climbed the ladder in Toronto, riding more and better winners, and by now seeing a sports psychologist, he remained unable to contain his impulses.
After achieving the highlight of his career on Eye Of The Leopard in the 2009 Queen’s Plate he says he heard voices telling him to kill himself. He turned to a therapist who worked with athletes and specialised in sexual compulsion who for the first time linked Da Silva’s childhood trauma to his adult problems.
Over seven years of sessions Da Silva’s mood and his performances on the track improved. He won a second Queen’s Plate in 2010 and won his first jockeys’ championship; he won five more in consecutive years from 2015. In 2018 he rode a record 237 winners.
Da Silva’s first marriage ended in divorce but when he met his second wife, Orlaith, an equine surgeon from Ireland, he opened up to her. The jockey remarried in 2016 and cut ties with his father.
A golden period of success followed and despite winning another riding title – and landing the G1 Woodbine Mile on longshot El Tormenta, the only big race in Canada that had eluded him – in 2019 he retired. He now calls himself a “mind coach”.
“I lived with this bullshit inside myself for many years,” explains Da Silva. “It took me a lot of courage and work to talk about this. Now it’s easy. I’m not unhappy now but this was not the case for 40 years.
“My wife knew – when I married my second wife I was very open with her,” he goes on. “At that time I was not completely free but now I am free. I can’t go back to that. I am 100 per cent sure. I don’t carry the shame anymore. It’s not a secret.”
He continues: “I was doing pretty good when I retired but I stopped because my childhood was not the best and now I have three small kids.
“I have a chance to live a childhood again with my kids. Plus it means a lot to be able to help people. I lived in pain every day before. Now I am in a position where I can help others.”