Louisiana native Delahoussaye rides out Katrina

Sep 13, 2005 3:19 AM

If he had his druthers, Eddie Delahoussaye would rather be riding.

But a nasty curve from fate struck him out on Aug. 30, 2002, when he suffered a neck fracture and a head concussion in a spill at Del Mar. He had hoped to resume riding but when his injuries did not sufficiently respond to therapy, the Louisiana native, who will be 54 on the 21st of this month, announced his retirement in January 2003.

The unexpected end to a Hall of Fame career that included back-to-back victories in the Kentucky Derby in 1982 and 1983 wasn’t easy to accept. But Eddie and his wife, Juanita, have adjusted to more emotional rigors, namely the raising of their daughter, Mandy, now in her early 30s, who has had developmental disabilities since birth.

The death and devastation unleashed by Hurricane Katrina is the most recent tragedy Delahoussaye and his family have had to overcome. Delahoussaye was born in New Iberia, about 135 miles southwest of New Orleans, which along with the Gulf Coast, absorbed Katrina’s greatest wrath. But don’t shower Eddie D. with sympathy. He doesn’t wear it well.

"The family’s OK and everything went smooth for them," Delahoussaye said of his Louisiana clan. "They have a place to stay and they’re safe. We’re trying to get the names of local organizations so we can send whatever we can to help. My sister talked to the mayor of my home town, New Iberia, where a lot of people are staying. We’re going to try to help as many people as we can, get as much together as we can and send whatever we can."

Delahoussaye’s philosophical foundation is built on pride and an unassuming demeanor which has served him well ever since he began riding quarter horses and mixed breeds in Louisiana at the age of 10. He gained invaluable knowledge from his father and his uncle, both trainers, and began riding thoroughbreds at the Fair Grounds in 1967.

In 1979 he became a regular in Southern California, where he earned the everlasting respect of bettors, who knew they got their two dollar’s worth when they backed one of his horses. He gained fame and popularity by consistently winning races in dazzling come-from-behind fashion, but once told me that reputation was overrated. "I ride speed horses just as well as closers," he said.

"They had winds of about 35 miles an hour in New Iberia that knocked out electricity but it was nothing like New Orleans and the Gulf Coast," Delahoussaye said. "We’ve had hurricanes in our region before but this is the worst. It was so large and widespread and powerful it’s unbelievable. I think if the levees wouldn’t have busted it probably wouldn’t have been near as bad."

Delahoussaye is one of many jockeys spawned by Louisiana. The Cajun coterie includes Randy Romero, Kent Desormeaux, Casey Fusilier, Craig Perret and Mark Guidry, among others.

"I was on the phone with Mark Guidry and he and my sister were making arrangements for needed items to be sent to my brother, Edwin, and his family and others in Louisiana and Mississippi," Delahoussaye said. "My wife’s sister was in New Orleans but fortunately got out before the real danger and went to Lafayette, Louisiana. It’s just amazing how many people this displaced. It’s hard to imagine being in their shoes and what’s going through their minds."

Whatever it is, Delahoussaye and his family can relate. That’s why their aid was offered faster than one of those quarter horses Eddie D. rode when he was a kid. But he was always generous, unselfish and quick on the draw for those in need.

He won a new Chrysler for winning 1992 Belmont Stakes on A.P. Indy, but instead of accepting the fancy wheels, he spurned the material prize and had Chrysler write three checks that equaled the value of the vehicle to his three favorite charities: the Shoemaker Foundation, the Don MacBeth Memorial jockey fund and the Jockeys’ Guild for disabled riders.

Whether he has saved enough from the $195,881,170 his mounts earned during a 35-year career that saw him win 6,384 races is something only Delahoussaye and the IRS know. Presently Eddie is making ends meet peddling horse flesh, buying and selling thoroughbreds.

"I’m doing OK," he said with a touch of resignation. "I’m trying to get things going."

Anyone who knows Eddie Delahoussaye wouldn’t bet against him.

The homestretch:

Add News You Can Bet On: Gaming Today was first with the info that undefeated Lost In The Fog would make his next start on Oct. 1 at Bay Meadows as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Oct. 29.

”¡ Choking on chalk: On the 13-race opening day card at Fairplex Park, not one winner paid more than $8. The payoffs: $6.20, $3.60, $7.80, $3.60, $4.20, $4.40, $5.60, $3.40, $8, $4.80, $5.20, $4.80 and $4.20. A $2 win parlay would have paid about $18,000. The Pick Six paid $361.20 on 94 winning tickets. Five of six returned $12.60 on 1,152 tickets.

”¡ This e-mail from Ann in Henderson on the item about the homeless man in Vegas who held the sign reading, Need Money for Beer: "We have homeless regulars with well-kept dogs. The man you saw is a regular and will tell you he can’t afford to get a job — he wouldn’t make as much money."

”¡ Proof that society has dumbed-down to the lowest common denominator is this sign on the men’s locker room at my YMCA: "No Girls Allowed in the Men’s Locker Room."