01/22/2002 12:00AM

Two great riders, two great rides

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ARCADIA, Calif. - It is probably safe to assume that Eddie Delahoussaye is the only guy to have a losing ride depicted in life-size bronze and displayed for all the world to see. So much for ego control.

"Against All Odds" is the name of the sculpture that stands sentry over the paddock at Arlington Park in Chicago. Delahoussaye's image is astride The Bart, and they are in the process of losing a heart-ripping head bob to Bill Shoemaker and John Henry in the 1981 running of the Arlington Million.

Delahoussaye remembers the moment like it was yesterday. He doesn't need the statue to rub it in.

"It was an awful feeling," Delahoussaye said. "It was the first million-dollar race, and for all I knew it could have been the last."

It wasn't, and since then Delahoussaye has won more than his share, many of them by margins nearly as narrow as that first Arlington Million. Recent actions burn brightest, though, no matter what kind of money is involved.

That is why Delahoussaye spent most of Monday accepting congratulations for his performance on Sunday aboard Affluent in their victory over Alex Solis and Royally Chosen in the $150,000 El Encino Stakes.

The 1 1/16-mile El Encino occupies a relatively small corner of the West Coast stakes schedule, designed exclusively for 4-year-old fillies at a distance that rarely nurtures greatness. But take away those conditional trappings, and what's left is a burning example of why the racing game can make the heart pound and the head spin.

If nothing else, Delahoussaye and Solis delivered a race-riding seminar that should be required viewing for years to come. Between them, the two men can claim 53 years of professional experience. They used it all last Sunday.

And they were still talking about it late Monday morning, while sitting together in the jocks' room hot box, sweating off the last of the ounces they would need to make the weight for the afternoon's card. Solis still could not believe Delahoussaye went for the rail. For his part, Delahoussaye found it hard to believe that the stewards could question the tactics of Solis, although he was not surprised that they called him in to view the tapes.

"It was great race-riding," Delahoussaye said. "Right up to the line, but he didn't cross it. He rode a perfect race."

This was not merely the generosity of a winner. Riders at the level of Delahoussaye and Solis take tremendous pride in the application of their craft. When a race like the El Encino comes along, affording them the chance to practice the finest points of the trade, they are energized far beyond the amount of the purse or praise from the public.

So forget for a moment that Delahoussaye was parked six wide on the first turn, or that he found himself trapped at the five-sixteenths, reducing his options to either the inside . . . or nowhere. When Delahoussaye committed Affluent to a shrinking gap between Royally Chosen and the rail, the real race had begun.

"At the sixteenth pole, my filly was really digging," Delahoussaye said. "I didn't want to reach back and hit her, because, like I told Alex, she might have thought that his filly hit her. And it was so tight, my filly would have ducked in and then out, and maybe caused a real problem. If I'd have lost my cool and went to wailing on her, no telling what could have happened."

The idea of Delahoussaye losing his cool is one of those abstract concepts, nearly impossible to grasp because no one can picture the working reality. Delahoussaye's cool is always secure, tucked in a safe place. Sure, he might have lost it at a high school prom, when someone else asked his girl to dance. Or maybe somebody once cut him off while he was riding his Harley.

"Oh yeah, I lost my cool when I dropped my stick in a million-dollar race when I was on Hollywood Wildcat," Eddie said. "My composure went out the window then." The race was the 1993 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita.

Delahoussaye, on the inside, responded by slapping his filly with everything but the American flag and screaming a chorus from "Rebel Yell." Hollywood Wildcat beat Paseana by a nose.

This time, though, he was sneaky quiet aboard Affluent until they were abreast of Royally Chosen. Then commenced Delahoussaye's trademark "hunh-hunh-hunh haw-haw-haw," accompanied by an under-handed flip of the whip beside Affluent's right eye, just to keep her focused.

While this was happening, Solis could be seen leaning to his left, shifting his weight in an attempt to keep Royally Chosen from drifting outward.

"The stewards asked me why I was leaning in," Solis said. "My filly was trying to run away from the other filly, and I wanted to keep her in, running straight. But if I pull my filly to the inside, she's gonna make contact. And even if she doesn't, I would be losing momentum by pulling on the bit. The trick is to correct, but not over-correct."

Amazingly, both Affluent and Royally Chosen maintained almost perfectly straight lines as their riders performed their close-in magic, perched on their toes, aboard two speeding Thoroughbreds.

"It was a fun race," Solis said, and he meant it. "I was disappointed. But I did everything I could to win. I was pedaling very hard."

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

Perhaps, but one thing is certain. Every good race for the rest of the year will suffer by comparison. "Yeah, that was a real thriller," someone will say. "But it wasn't the El Encino."