With a big smile and his signature greeting -- "Good Luck to everybody" -- Brazilian-born jockey Eurico Rosa Da Silva has fast become a Woodbine fan favourite.
This morning, that popularity only grows with his status as a Queen's Plate champion after a stellar winning ride in his first try at the opening jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown.
"I'm just a lucky guy to ride such a beautiful horse, a great horse," the dynamic jock said after steadily urging home Eye of the Leopard to take the lead over Mr. Foricos Two U deep in the Woodbine stretch. "(Trainer Mark Frostad) was not in his first Queen's Plate. He was much more relaxed than me. I was very confident with my horse and that means a lot."
For a rider breaking his Plate maiden, Da Silva looked anything but out of place. He wisely stalked the early pace setting up his colt for a triumphant stretch run to beat out Mr. Foricos Two U and third-placed Filly Milwaukee Appeal, the morning-line favourite.
"He's a big, strong colt and you have to keep his mind on his business," Frostad said. "He rode the horse beautifully. He had them in strike and didn't let them get too far away."
An accomplished rider in Brazil -- including a victory in the Brazil Derby -- Da Silva came to Canada in 2004 determined to make his impact as a top rider at Woodbine.
"I don't know how long it will take for me to be a top jockey here, but that's what I'd like to achieve," he said. "This is the most important race for Canadians. This is the greatest."
Perhaps even more special was the fact that Da Silva was able to get the best of hall-of-fame jockey Mike Smith, who gave Mr. Foricos Two U a clever steer and looked like he was going to steal the win late in the stretch.
"It was a gallant effort in defeat," said Smith, who won the 1997 Plate with Awesome Again and was recruited by trainer Catherine Day Phillips to ride. "I thought that if he was on my head, instead of my tail, I might have been able to hold him off."