This day at the 112th Running of the Kentucky Derby belonged to trainer D Wayne Lukas….a three year-old named Ferdinand….and a man known by many as The Shoe….as legendary jockey Willie Shoemaker won his last of his 11 Triple Crown race victories.
William Lee “Bill” Shoemaker was an American thoroughbred jockey….who for 29 years held the world record for total professional jockey victories at 8,833. Referred to as “Bill”, “Willie,” and “The Shoe”…he was born in the town of Fabens, Texas….when at 38 ounces (1.1 kg)….The Shoe was so small at birth that he was not expected to survive the night….as they put him in a shoe-box in the oven to stay warm…when he survived but remained small….growing to 4 feet 10 inches (1.47m) and weighing 91 pounds (41 kg). His diminutive size proved an asset as he went on to become a giant in thoroughbred horse racing, despite dropping out of El Monte High School in El Monte, California.
His career as a jockey began in his teenage years….with his first professional ride on March 19, 1949…. and tje 1st of his eventual 8,833 career victories came a month later, on April 20, aboard Shafter V at Golden Gate Fields in Albany, California. In 1951, he won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award….and at the age of 19….he was making so much money ($2,500/wk.) that the 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, spanning four different decades, but the Crown itself eluded him. The breakdown of these wins is as follows….in the Kentucky Derby – Swaps (1955), Tomy Lee (1959), Lucky Debonair (1965) and Ferdinand (1986)…..in the Preakness Stakes:- Candy Spots (1963) and Damascus (1967)….in the Belmont Stakes – Gallant Man (1957), Sword Dancer (1959) Jaipur (1962), Damascus (1967) and Avatar(1975).
At this 1986 Kentucky Derby seen herewith….Shoemaker became the oldest jockey ever to win the race (at age 54) aboard the 18-1 outsider Ferdinand. The following year, he rode Ferdinand to a victory over Alysheba in the Breeders’ Cup Classic….as Ferdinand later captured Horse of the Year honors.
Shoemaker rode the popular California horse Silky Sullivan….of whom he was quoted as saying: “You just had to let him run his race … and if he decided to win it, you’d better hold on because you’d be moving faster than a train.”
Win number 8,833, Shoemaker’s last, came at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida, on January 20, 1990 aboard Beau Genius….and two weeks later on February 3….The Shoe rode his last race on Patchy Groundfog at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California….as he finished fourth to Eddie Delahoussaye…and all told…. Bill Shoemaker rode in a record 40,350 races.