08/19/2016 2:40PM

Hovdey: Eddie D. weathering tough homecoming


Eddie Delahoussaye spent five years combing the terrain in the region around Lafayette, Louisiana’s fourth-largest city, looking for just the right parcel of ground on which to build his retirement home upon returning to his native soil.

Looks like he picked the right place.

Contacted this week, Delahoussaye was spared the ravages of the terrible floods that rose from the storms of Aug. 11-14. While the rest of the world watched helplessly as 13 people perished and more than 40,000 homes suffered damage from the relentless waters, Delahoussaye and his family counted their blessings in the face of what the Red Cross is calling the worst disaster to hit the U.S. since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“We were locked in here for about three days where we couldn’t get anywhere,” Delahoussaye said Friday morning. “Some of the roads are passable now, but we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s tropical storms coming through here the next few days, and there’s so many people who still can’t go back to see if they’ve got any home left at all.”

The former jockey is from New Iberia, a small town a few miles southeast of Lafayette in what has been a cradle brimming with Thoroughbred-riding talent named Broussard and Romero, as well as Delahoussaye.

“All the years I lived here, from when I was a little kid to when we moved to California in 1979, we had flooding and hurricanes, but never something like this,” Delahoussaye said. “I was talking to a guy 86 years old. He told me the last rain and flood of this kind was in 1940. He said the floods hit so fast without warning that his family had to get to higher ground in a skiff.”

Known as the Crowley Flood, the regional cataclysm of 76 years ago caused the evacuation of 13,000 from the town of Crowley, which is located about 15 miles west of Lafayette in the heel of the Louisiana boot. Delahoussaye’s home is maybe five miles southeast of Lafayette on the way to the town of Youngsville, which this week was under seven feet of water. The total rainfall in some areas has topped 25 inches. During the 1940 storms, as much as 33 inches of rainfall was measured.

“It was like somebody turned on the faucet and let it run,” Delahoussaye said. “There’s a lot of new subdivisions around here in low-lying areas, and a lot of those were flooded pretty bad.”

The Delahoussayes were among the thousands who lost power and cable, but Delahoussaye had installed a backup generator that supplied electricity during a blackout of more than 20 hours. His emergency rooftop antenna provided rudimentary TV reception for local broadcasts.

“We had no problems with the sewage or the water,” Delahoussaye added. “Thank God.”

Such disasters tend to focus the attention on friends and family who could be involved. Then again, on any given day during Del Mar, the name Eddie Delahoussaye is often heard. Few individuals have had a greater impact, both on and off the track.

It was in 1979, fresh from his national championship the year before, that Delahoussaye descended upon Southern California and made it his own. That year, he won the first of his 95 Del Mar stakes. In 1981, he began a fruitful association with trainer Eddie Gregson by winning the Del Mar Futurity aboard Gato Del Sol. Eight months later, they combined their talents to win the Kentucky Derby.

Delahoussaye took the Del Mar riding title in 1989, when the jocks’ room included Laffit Pincay, Chris McCarron, Kent Desormeaux, and Gary Stevens. He won five runnings of the Del Mar Derby, five editions of the Bing Crosby, and four versions of the Eddie Read. When the Pacific Classic was inaugurated in 1991, Delahoussaye hit the board a couple of times and then won the race in 1994 and ’95 with Tinners Way.

In 1993, Delahoussaye won nine stakes, including the Del Mar Oaks with Hollywood Wildcat and the Del Mar Debutante with Sardula, pausing only for a quick trip to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for his induction into the Hall of Fame. His reaction:

“How ’bout that? A kid from Louisiana.”

Delahoussaye paid the price for his Del Mar success with more than a pound of flesh. His summers were interrupted at various times by a fractured pelvis and a fractured shoulder, and then, on Aug. 30, 2002, when he suffered head and neck injuries that led to his official retirement the following spring.

Carrying himself with his trademark class and self-deprecation, Delahoussaye resisted any serious fuss over his retirement. He preferred to let his record of 6,383 winners and $195 million in mount earnings speak for itself. Only 14 riders in history have more wins, and just 15 have earned more money.

In retirement, Delahoussaye has continued to advocate for causes close to his heart, including the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation, and he has helped form ownership groups to promote the sport.

Delahoussaye will turn 65 on Sept. 21. On Sept. 30, weather permitting, he plans to be at Santa Anita with his wife, Juanita, for the Eddie D. Stakes, the traditional opening-day feature of the fall Santa Anita meet.

“I wish I could bring a little of this rain for you folks out there because you need it,” Delahoussaye said. “In the meantime, I think I’m gonna buy a boat.”