TORONTO — Jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva has a tough act to follow in 2019.
The 43-year-old Brazilian registered a record 237 wins at Woodbine Racetrack last year. He easily eclipsed the previous mark of 221 set by Mickey Walls in 1991 despite missing the first six days of the '18 meet.
The two-time Queen's Plate winner (Eye of the Leopard in 2009, Big Red Mike in '10) has cracked the 200-win plateau four straight years. In 2017, he was named Canada's top jockey after registering 203 victories, including 42-1 longshot Bullards Alley in the $800,000 Canadian International turf event.
The 133-day '19 meet begins Saturday at Woodbine and runs through Dec. 15.
Da Silva isn't feeling any added pressure this season, saying he always faces the expectation to perform head-on.
"There's always pressure," he said. "Every athlete has that pressure but you need to use that pressure to inspire you.
"I use that as motivation to get better. There's pressure because there's a lot of good riders and also I use that as motivation to get myself even more focused every day."
Woodbine's first signature race day will be June 8 with both the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks and $125,000 Plate Trial headlining the card.
The $1-million Queen's Plate, the first jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, again highlights the Woodbine meet June 29, which also includes the $400,000 Breeders' Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf race that concludes the Triple Crown, also at Woodbine, on Aug. 17.
Woodbine will also unveil a new inner turf course this season and the $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile will kick off the track's championship fall grass season Sept. 14. The International, another event that annually attracts top international turf horses, is scheduled for Oct. 12.
Surprisingly, da Rosa pondered retirement prior to embarking on his record-breaking '18 season.
"But my love for horses was bigger," he said. "I came back and put my true focus on having explored that love and connection with the horse.
"I went through everything."
A laser focus is a da Silva trademark. Just ask veteran jockey Justin Stein, who's returning to racing this season following a three-year retirement.
"When I came back this time, the focus — that's something I actually learned from da Silva watching the way he focuses on what he's doing — is something I've put into practice," Stein said.
Da Silva expounded on that ability a little further.
"My strength is I have a real strong connection with the horse and that's what I focus on every day," he said. "And have that mindset to feel what the horse feels.
"The first thing I focus on doing is relax the horse and that's what I was doing all of last year. I was not thinking about winning this race or that race. I was really really focused on having that connection and making the horse feel good about himself."
Another da Silva strength is being able to leave horse racing once the season is complete.
"I switch off my mind from racing," he said. "I don't watch any races and I truly focus on my family, you know, my kids."
That means spending quality family time, be it at home or travelling abroad. Then in March, da Silva commits to a hard-core taekwondo training regime.
"I train (to) where I'm going to throw up . . .but I continue to train and make the mind overcome that," he said. "I try to train really really high performance.
"I prefer doing that in the gym . . . training than go to the track where I feel like I am not prepared for it. I like to be fully prepared for the first day."
Da Silva is also looking forward to racing on Woodbine's new turf course.
"It will be a new challenge for everybody," he said. "Some horses are going to handle it well and some horses aren't going to handle it that well because it's a different course.
"Just get on to the horse and get him to think he'll handle it well and going for it. You embrace that new challenge."
One of da Silva's more successful '18 mounts was Pink Lloyd, Canada's '17 horse of the year who'd won 11 straight stakes events before finishing third July 8 in the $100,000 Shepperton Stakes. But da Silva said the seven-year-old gelding has shown well in off-season workouts.
"The last work, he was so powerful," he said. "I was super, super impressed with him.
"I don't doubt one bit that he's going to have a good season."
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press