Retired Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye will sometimes find himself tuning in to a horse racing show and watching a replay of one of the famous races he rode. His mind is flooded with good memories.
“I just miss those days. The sport has been great to me,” he said. “I know I can’t go back, but it’s fun to see those old tapes once in a while.”
Perhaps he will see a replay of the 1982 Kentucky Derby and remember his elation at the top of the stretch as Gato Del Sol, a 21-1 long shot who was last in the early going, gradually took command after weaving his way through 18 other horses. “I said, ‘I’m going to win this!’” he recalled of his first Derby triumph. “The excitement gets over you and you know you are going to be in the history books.”
If he should see a tape of the 1983 Arkansas Derby and his winning effort with Sunny’s Halo, a conversation he had with his agent, Craig O’Brien, always comes to mind.
“We’re going to win the Derby,” he said after dismounting.
“Really?” responded an incredulous O’Brien.
“If he stays healthy,” Delahoussaye said, “they can’t beat him in the Kentucky Derby.”
Delahoussaye delighted in being right when Sunny’s Halo met his expectations and made him only the fourth jockey to achieve consecutive victories in the Derby, following in the path of Isaac Murphy (1890-91), Jimmy Winkfield (1901-02), and Ron Turcotte (1972-73).
If a replay of his winning effort in the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Classic should pop onto the screen, he cannot help but appreciate the quality of A.P. Indy, his mount that day. “He was a very special horse,” he said. “You could do anything you wanted to with him, put him close to the lead, put him inside or outside. It makes your job easy.”
Delahoussaye tended to make a complex job look easy whenever he competed. The native of New Iberia, La., rode the bush tracks in his home state as a youngster before earning his first official victory at Evangeline Downs in 1968.
He went on to win 6,384 races during his 34-year career and ranked 11th in wins when he retired. His earnings were an astronomical $195,881,170, which stood sixth all-time when he stepped away from the game.
He added to his consecutive Derbys by sweeping the Preakness and Belmont Stakes with Risen Star in 1988 and added another Belmont score four years later. He won seven Breeders’ Cup races, including two victories apiece in the Distaff (1984, 1993) and the Sprint (1992-93). He took 11 races that carried purses of at least $1 million. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1993.
A pivotal moment in his career came in 1978, when he decided to move from the Midwest to prove he belonged in the rugged jockey colony in Southern California. “If they give me enough good stock,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “I can ride with anybody.”
Delahoussaye reluctantly retired in January 2003 after sustaining his fifth concussion in an accident at Del Mar on Aug. 30, 2002. He remains active in the sport as an owner, breeder, and bloodstock adviser.
“I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done. I was very fortunate, especially coming from where I came from,” said Delahoussaye, 66. “I achieved my goals. I have no regrets at all.”
- The Times-Picayune of New Orleans ranked him 25th among Louisiana’s all-time athletes.
- Serves on board of Edwin J. Gregson Foundation, which assists children of backstretch workers in advancing their college educations.
- Inducted into Fair Grounds Racing Hall of Fame in 1999.
- Enshrined in Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
- After retiring, relocated from West Coast to native state of Louisiana.
This feature was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.