01/17/2003 12:00AM

After the cheers fade away . . .

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ARCADIA, Calif. - One year ago, in the 2002 running of the El Encino Stakes, Eddie Delahoussaye crafted one of his finest rides. He was aboard Affluent, and with a quarter of a mile left to run in the 1 1/16-mile race they had absolutely no place to go.

Somehow, Delahoussaye found a way to get the job done. Alex Solis, aboard Royally Chosen, still can't believe Eddie D. had the nerve to make that move inside. After it was over, after Delahoussaye and Affluent won by a nose, Eddie was generous in victory and gave Solis ample credit in defeat.

"He sure as heck didn't get out-rode," Delahoussaye said. "His filly just got outrun by a better horse."

Solis won't need to be checking over his shoulder for Delahoussaye on Sunday, when Alex rides Got Koko in this year's El Encino.

Chances are Delahoussaye will be in the stands, hanging out, getting his hand pumped and his back slapped while still dealing with his decision to retire.

If he tells you it has been easy, don't believe him.

"After you've experienced the thrills of winning major races, like Eddie has for so many years, there's really nothing in a person's professional life that can compare," said Darrel McHargue, an Eclipse Award-winning national champion who became a racing official after his retirement.

"It's hard to turn it loose, and some riders handle it better than others," McHargue said. "But Eddie is an intelligent guy. He'll be okay. The trick is to try to keep busy, try to stay in the game, stay active, and maybe continue to have some input."

Some well-known riders have turned to the stewards stand as a second career, among them Bill Hartack, Walter Blum, Bill Boland, John Rotz, and Ted Atkinson. Delahoussaye has yet to mention such an option, and McHargue was not surprised.

"He knows better than that," McHargue said. "This job will do nothing but give you gray hair, then make you lose it."

In fact, Delahoussaye hopes to put his lifetime of experience to use for a patron who wants a good eye at horse sales and an honest evaluation of racing prospects. And he will take steps in that direction as soon as the reality of retirement sinks in.

"I sure don't want to just play golf and fix things around the house," Delahoussaye said. "Hopefully, I can find some people who will hire me to buy babies for them. I enjoy that. I've been doing that since the 1980's, off and on, going to sales at Keeneland, Barretts."

This week, it was hard for Delahoussaye to look forward, since everyone was dwelling on his past. Cards and good wishes streamed in following his announcement. Every other phone call asked him for an interview. Truth be told, Delahoussaye was more concerned with the fact that his house had chosen this particular moment to assert its own list of needs.

"Seems like everything is falling apart since I quit," Delahoussaye said Friday morning while running a string of errands. There was a bandsaw going in the background as he spoke. Clearly, some kind of lumber was involved.

"The money's not coming in, but brother it's going out," Eddie went on, laughing at his plight. "I need propane. I bought a new stove and stove top. A new water softener. On top of everything else, today is Juanita's birthday. The big 5-0. She wasn't taking it too well, but I told her that it's not everyone lives to be half a hundred years old."

Juanita Delahoussaye breathed a sigh of relief when her husband finally made his retirement official this week. On the heels of Delahoussaye's fall at Del Mar last Aug. 30, the specter of further head trauma was enough to keep Juanita up nights. The Delahoussayes spent the last five months in limbo, waiting for Eddie's injuries to heal.

In the end, the risk was too great. Delahoussaye's mantra - "Jockeys are the only people crazy enough to ride these things" - finally came full circle.

He was not crazy enough to pay the ultimate price, at least not on purpose.

"Day-in, day-out, jockeys have the hardest, most dangerous job in racing," he said. "There's dealing with weight. Dealing with people, and all the ups and downs. You bet they deserve the money they make."

Delahoussaye certainly earned his money in the 2002 El Encino, and in hundreds of other high -stakes situations when his skills made the difference.

It is hard to picture Sardula beating Lakeway in the 1994 Kentucky Oaks without Delahoussaye, or Go West Young Man beating Relaunch in the 1980 Del Mar Handicap after a head-and-head, half-mile drive, or Both Ends Burning squeaking through inside to win the 1985 Hollywood Turf Invitational, while the crowd averted its eyes. Delahoussaye's reaction that day?

"Now, is that any way for an old married man to be acting?" he wondered.

Absolutely not, unless you were Eddie D.