Track Talk: The Incomparable Willie Shoemaker

MSC - Track Talk

Track Talk

(Maximum Sports Channels – Linda Morgan) I recently did a post about one of the most famous names in racing, Eddie Arcaro. But when I think of famous jockeys, the name Willie Shoemaker (August 19, 1931 – October 12, 2003) is right up there with Arcaro’s so I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t give “The Shoe” equal time.

Referred to as “Bill”, “Willie,” and “The Shoe”, William Lee Shoemaker was born in Fabens, Texas. Weighing only 2.5 pounds at birth, Shoemaker was so small that he was not expected to survive the night. Put in a shoebox in the oven to stay warm, he survived, but remained small, growing to 4 feet 11 inches and weighing only 105 pounds. His diminutive size proved an asset as he went on to become a giant in thoroughbred horse racing.

His career as a jockey began while still in his teens, with his first professional ride on March 19, 1949. The first of his eventual 8,833 career victories came a month later, on April 20, aboard a horse named Shafter V, at the Golden Gate Fields in Albany, California. In 1951, he won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. At the age of 19, he was making so much money (as much as $2,500 each week) that Los Angeles Superior Court appointed attorney Horace Hahn as his guardian, with the consent of his parents. Thirty years later he won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in the United States.

Shoemaker won eleven Triple Crown races during his career that spanned four decades, but never the Crown itself. The breakdown of these wins is as follows:

Kentucky Derby: Swaps (1955), Tomy Lee (1959), Lucky Debonair (1965) and Ferdinand (1986)
Preakness Stakes: Candy Spots (1963) and Damascus (1967)
Belmont Stakes: Gallant Man (1957), Sword Dancer (1959), Jaipur (1962), Damascus (1967) and Avatar (1975)

Soon after retiring as a jockey, Shoemaker returned to the track as a trainer for such clients as Gulfstream magnate Allen Paulson and composer Burt Bacharach. Shoemaker was involved in a solo drunk-driving car accident on April 8, 1991, in San Dimas, California, when he rolled over the Bronco II he was driving. The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair. He continued to train racehorses until his retirement on Nov. 2, 1997. His final stats as a trainer were 90 wins from 714 starters and earnings of $3.7 million.

Shoemaker was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1958.

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