07/04/2003 12:00AM

Eddie D. is retired, but still in game


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - On Sunday, July 13, Laffit Pincay will submit to an afternoon full of high praise and ceremonial pomp as Hollywood Park presents a salute to the career of the most successful jockey in the history of the sport. Attendance is required for anyone who has ever thrilled to a Pincay finish, or cashed a ticket thanks to his indomitable drive.

It will be a day both Pincay and his fans deserve. After 37 years as an American champion, with all the ups and downs that come with such longevity, Pincay has given us more than enough memories to go around. Everyone, at one time or another, has enjoyed a piece of Pincay.

Eddie Delahoussaye deserved such a day as well. In terms of accomplishments and impact, Delahoussaye took a back seat to no one. A neck injury ended his career last summer at Del Mar, at the age of 51, just as a neck injury has dictated retirement for the 56-year-old Pincay. Between them they rode 87,700 horses and won with 15,914 of them. I guess we can't feel cheated.

It was Delahoussaye's decision, however, to decline the offers of a special Eddie D. Day. As a very private man with tight rein on his emotions, he knew that such a public display of appreciation might be tough to take. So Delahoussaye was content with a few small retirement gatherings and a steady supply of well-wishers.

He is busy enough anyway, with the ongoing recovery from his injuries and the exciting prospect of a new career as a bloodstock agent, syndicate manager, and racehorse owner under the banner of Delahoussaye Enterprises. Delahoussaye was asked if he was feeling comfortable in his new role.

"Well, I weigh 130 pounds, so I must be comfortable," he replied with a laugh.

It was Friday morning, and Delahoussaye was standing at the Hollywood Park training track, watching as the 5-year-old mare Angel Gift turned in a leisurely gallop for trainer Paddy Gallagher. Angel Gift was scheduled to be Delahoussaye's first starter as an ownership partner in the Royal Heroine Stakes on Saturday.

Even today, nearly a year after his accident, the past performances of Daily Racing Form continue to be sprinkled with Delahoussaye's name in the running lines of any number of horses. Angel Gift is one of them.

"I goes to show you, it hasn't been that long," Delahoussaye said.

"And I'm doing okay, as long as I'm around horses. Hopefully, when I start my new venture this September, I'll be able to get a few clients. If I can get new people in the game, that will be even better."

Delahoussaye is hardly a greenhorn when it comes to prospecting for horse talent. He's been dabbling on the side since the 1980's, buying the occasional young horse and supervising its early training. Active jockeys are not allowed to own racehorses, but there's no law against learning the ropes.

"Guys will spend millions and millions with no guarantee," Delahoussaye said. "The best programs start right on the farm, breaking the babies. If you have the clients that will let you break them right and give them time, they will achieve. I believe that.

"And if my clients will let me, I'd like to keep a little piece of the horses I buy for myself," he added. "I think that might give them a little incentive, knowing that I'm willing to invest along with them."

Delahoussaye's new business helps keep his mind off the nagging twitch that continues to plague his neck. When he went down hard on the Del Mar grass course, he not only sustained a fractured vertebra but also suffered neurological trauma. Basically, his brain is sending the wrong messages to the muscles in his neck.

"I'll be going back into physical therapy to keep strengthening the muscles in the neck," Delahoussaye said. "When I build up those muscles, the trick is to try to get the brain to realize that the muscles are relaxed. Then the brain will relax. Right now, the brain is still trying to protect that area by tightening up the muscles. The doctors say it could go away, or I might have to live with it."

Delahoussaye notices the problem most often when he is attempting fine motor tasks, or narrow focus. Sometimes he has trouble using a screwdriver. Often the neck muscles twitch when he tries to read. And as for his golf game - already a source of frustration - well, forget about it.

"Maybe I should just stick to watching tennis," Delahoussaye said. "I'm fine with that ball going back and forth."

Look for Delahoussaye in the front row next Sunday at Hollywood, shoulder to shoulder with other dignitaries, when his old pal Pincay is in the spotlight.

"I appreciated what all the people wanted to do for me," Delahoussaye said. "I just can't handle that stuff. Laffit, though, he might need it. In the back of his mind, I think he might need it for closure. I visited him the other day. You could see his family wants it for Laffit, too, and that's good. Anyway, I'll be there."