06/22/2012 3:38PM

Hovdey: Delahoussaye - the man behind the stakes name

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Eddie Delahoussaye was expecting the call. There was justifiable concern for his health. After all, a jockey usually does not get a stakes race or a memorial award named in his honor unless he has suffered some terrible trauma, like dying, preferably in public and in proximity to a racehorse.

This is how it went with George Woolf, Juan Gonzalez, Mike Venezia, Avelino Gomez, Mark Villa, and Michael Rowland. All were killed in the line of duty, all memorialized with awards or races.

On the other hand, the Dean Kutz Memorial at Canterbury recognizes a respected journeyman who beat the odds on the racetrack but lost a battle with cancer. Bill Shoemaker was honored with Hollywood Park’s Shoemaker Mile in 1990, the year he retired in one piece. Then there is Hollywood’s Laffit Pincay Award, recognizing contributions to the game, and he’s still alive and well to present it.

“Imagine that,” Delahoussaye said Friday morning. “Naming a race after someone while they’re still around to enjoy it. I hope that’s not a sign I’m going, though. Maybe they know something I don’t.”

They don’t, “they” in this case being the management team at Santa Anita Park, where department heads are busy trying to rename the major events of the fall meeting once operated by the Oak Tree Racing Association. The opening day of the 2012 meet, topped by Breeders’ Cup XXIX on Nov. 2-3, now will be headlined by the $100,000 Eddie D. Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course.

For those who are wondering, the Sept. 28 Eddie D. replaces the old Morvich Handicap in name only and covers the same distance over the same ground as the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. It is also a Grade 3 event, making it a viable prep for horses who either want a test run over the course or a chance to make the field. Or both. California Flag, the ageless gray, has won three of the last four runnings of the Morvich and might even show up for the first running of the Eddie D.

Before the name passes into history, it also should be remembered that Morvich was the nation’s leading 2-year-old of 1921 when he won all 11 of his starts. In his first start of 1922 he became the first California-bred winner of the Kentucky Derby.

Delahoussaye’s history is no less sparkling. With two wins in the Kentucky Derby, seven wins in Breeders’ Cup events, a national championship in races won and countless major stakes scores from coast to coast, he remains the best jockey never to have won an Eclipse Award. This says more about the Eclipse Awards than Delahoussaye, who never let such things bother him.

What bothered Delahoussaye, and still does, is the inability of racing institutions to do the right thing, or even recognize it in the first place. For example, in an interview at Santa Anita in early 1992, when Delahoussaye and a 3-year-old colt named A.P. Indy were starting to make noise, he was asked if he felt slighted that he had yet to be elected to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.

“Never mind me,” snapped Eddie D. “Is Sandy Hawley in there yet?”

He knew the answer was no.

“Then I don’t want to be in any Hall of Fame what can’t figure out Sandy Hawley belongs,” he said.

Hawley, two years older than Delahoussaye, was inducted in the summer of 1992. Delahoussaye joined him in 1993.

But back to his health. It’s okay, Delahoussaye assured, even though the effects of the neck injury that forced his retirement in 2003 still linger. He remains involved in the sport as a bloodstock agent and racing manager.

“If I go today, which I don’t want to, I’ve had a good life,” said Delahoussaye, who turns 61 in September. “But if I could do one thing, I’d hope to get the people in our industry to work together instead of against each other, then maybe we can get this game back on track. Because people still love it. I hear it all the time. Newcomers discover there’s people with a real passion for the sport, and they want to get involved.

“Right now I’ve been trying to get people back into the business who left it for one reason or another,” Delahoussaye went on. “They’re reluctant not so much because of the economy, but of the bad publicity from things like drugs, and from all the in-fighting. They see a sport run by people who are more interested in the money, in their own egos, and in the short term instead of the long term.”

Presenting a racetrack trophy late on a Friday afternoon in September does not exactly afford a bully pulpit. Chances are there will be a line or two about the man behind the name of “Eddie D.” but nothing more.

This does not trouble Delahoussaye, who is among a noble core of racing’s larger-than-life personalities who have preferred to let their actions do the talking. What they are beginning to feel, however, is betrayed, watching the sport they love fritter away its assets and reputation. Invariably, though, they are never the ones in charge.

“I’m happy to be recognized for what I’ve done over the years, and how much I support this game,” Delahoussaye said. “But I’d much rather the game be recognized for what it is – how many jobs it supports at racetracks and farms. How good people can make a difference if they get the chance. And how great it can be again.”