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L E’s Stories – “Nice Guys Finish 1st – Hats Off To Willie The Shoe” – Salute To Horse Racing Jockey Legend Bill Shoemaker

Having been born a year before Citation won the last Triple Crown of  Horse Racing (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes) before the great big red horse Secretariate won in 1978….Bone Daddy grew up in a house where the entire family….Pops, Granny Jean, Lil Wally, Bone Daddy and Runt…. were all gathered around the black and white television with “rabbit ears” antenna on the 1st Saturday in May each year to watch the Kentucky Derby during the decade of the 1950’s…..for this was a time when no one in the family knew any of the horses in the Derby….but because they had followed the Triple Crown of Horse Racing for long enough to know the jockeys better….so they would draw numbers to see who got to choose which jockey that they wanted to win that year’s Derby….and if their jockey won the race…..that family member would win a week’s worth of choosing another family member to help them do their daily chores around the house….so, this was a big deal….while BD can still remember some of the winning jockeys from this time in his life like Johnny Longden (winner of 5,000 races)….Eddie Arcaro (only jockey to win 2 x Triple Crown)…..Willie Shoemaker (United States Champion Jockey by wins in
1950, 1953, 1954, 1958 and 1959)…..along with Derby winners like Bill Boland (1950), Ismael Valenzuela (1958), David Erb (1956), Conn McCreary (1951), Hank Moreno (1953) and Raymond York (1954)….as Bill Shoemaker was the only jockey who was chosen each and every year throughout the 1950’s….so, that is why I have chosen to write this story “Hats Off To Willie The Shoe”.                                                                        

Horse Racing – 1948 To 1990 – Special Film – “Nice Guys Finish First” – The Story of Bill Shoemaker

Bill Shoemaker (August 19, 1931 – October 12, 2003) was an American jockey…..who for 29 years held the world record for total professional victories by a jockey.  Referred to as “Willie” and “The Shoe”, William Lee Shoemaker was born in the town of Fabens, Texas…..who at 38 ounces (1.1 kg), was so small at birth that he was not expected to survive the night….while being put in a shoe box in the oven to stay warm, he survived, but remained small when 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.                                                                       

Horse Racing – 1948 To 1990 – Special Highlights – Bill Shoemaker’s Phenomenal Record In The Handicap At Santa Anita Park

Shoemaker’s career as a jockey began in his teenage years, with his first professional ride on March 19, 1949….when the 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…..then 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) the Los Angeles Superior Court appointed attorney Horace Hahn as his guardian, with the consent of his parents.                                     

News & Horse Racing – 1951 – Golden Gate Fields Race Highlights – Willie Shoemaker’s 1st Of 8833 Ultimate Victories

Thirty years later, he won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in the United States….as “Willie The Shoe” won eleven Triple Crown races during his career….which spanned four different decades….but the Triple Crown itself eluded him. 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)                                                                                                                                                   

Horse Racing – 1957 – Kentucky Derby – Iron Liege With Bill Hartack Noses Out Gallant Man with Willie Shoemaker

Bone Daddy, the original Sportsphile had a good friend who liked to “bet on the ponies” …..who bet on Ferdinand…..who as the story goes put a healthy bet on Ferdinand (as he put it the bet was on Willie Shoemaker) to win the Kentucky Derby at 12 – 1 odds….as BD’s friend continued to “bet on the ponies” until 1996…..after reading an article regarding the horrendous death of the great stallion ….when he expressed in a phone call to BD by saying “Remember, I was with you at MSG (Madison Square Garden,The Sports Place, Austin, TX) to watch the 1986 Kentucky Derby, and I told you that I had just put $10 grand at 12 to 1 odds on Willie The Shoe riding Ferdinand with our friend down the street.  Do you remember how happy I was, heck, I bought the house a round, and you were packed, so, I bought like 1000 drinks, which made you happy, well, a buddy told me to look up what happened to Ferdinand after being sold to the Japanese in 1994, and I found out the horrific ending this magnificent animal had.  I haven’t bet on a horse since. If we are going to use animals for our entertainment we must be better stewards over their lives than we are. We fail our animal friends constantly. Just heartbreaking.”  I just figured that was a tale worth telling….cuz in Ferdinand‘s case, from this lil ole chiweenie Sportsphile’s  opinion….this gallant steed wins the Derby….then is sold to Japan 8 years later….and then he is SLAUGHTERED. ABSOLUTELY DISGRACEFUL. ITS A BRUTAL DEATH. RIP FERDINAND MAN TRULY SCREWED YOU OVER.                                                                                                                                                      

Horse Racing – 1986 – Kentucky Derby – Willie Shoemaker Rides Ferdinand To Victory

Two of Shoemaker’s most noted rides were in the Kentucky Derby…..when he lost the 1957 Kentucky Derby aboard Gallant Man….after he stood up in the stirrups too soon….while having misjudged the finish line….when Gallant Man finished 2nd to Iron Liege, ridden by Bill Hartack.  At the 1986 Kentucky Derby, 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.                                                                                                       

Horse Racing – 1955 – Kentucky Derby – Willie Shoemaker Rides Swaps To Victory

Shoemaker rode the popular California horse Silky Sullivan, about which he is 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.”  Shoemaker broke jockey Johnny Longden’s record of 6,032 victories in September 1970.  Shoemaker’s own record of 8,833 career victories was broken by Panamanian-born Laffit Pincay Jr….and the record is currently held by Russell Baze.  Win number 8,833, Shoemaker’s last, came at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida, on January 20, 1990 aboard Beau Genius. Two weeks later, on February 3, Shoemaker rode his last race on Patchy Groundfog, at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California…..where he finished 4th in front of a record crowd, to Eddie Delahoussaye, on Exemplary Leader.  All told, Bill Shoemaker rode in a record 40,350 races.  In 1990, he was voted the Mike Venezia Memorial Award for “extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship”.                                                                         

Horse Racing – 1965 – Kentucky Derby – Willie Shoemaker Rides Lucky Debonair To Victory

The Marlboro Cup of 1976 at Belmont Park proved to be maybe his greatest racing achievement, and it was upon the mighty Forego. Forego’s drive started from eighth position out of eleven horses on the backstretch. It culminated with a tremendous charge through the muddy middle-of-the-track stretch run, leading to a victory by a nose over the dead-game Honest Pleasure. Shoemaker was quoted as saying that Forego was the best horse he had ever ridden.                                                                                                             

Horse Racing – 1976 – Marlboro Cup – Willie Shoemaker Rides Forego To Victory

Soon after retiring as a jockey in 1990, Shoemaker returned to the track as a trainer, where he had modest success, training for such clients as Gulfstream magnate Allen Paulson and composer Burt Bacharach.  He continued to train racehorses until his retirement on November 2, 1997. His final stats as a trainer were 90 wins from 714 starters and earnings of $3.7 million.  Shoemaker was involved in a solo drunk-driving car accident on April 8, 1991, in San Dimas, California, when he rolled over the Ford Bronco II he was driving. The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, and he thereafter used a wheelchair. Shoemaker sued Ford, and Ford settled with Shoemaker for US$1,000,000.                                             

Horse Racing – February 3, 1990 – Santa Anita Park – Jockey Bill Shoemaker’s Final Race & Retirement

Shoemaker authored three murder mysteries. They were often compared to the large stable of best-selling horse mysteries by fellow jockey/author Dick Francis. Shoemaker’s Stalking Horse (1994), Fire Horse (1995), and Dark Horse (1996) all featured jockey-turned-sleuth Coley Killebrew using his racetrack experience in and about his restaurant and the horse world.  Shoemaker was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1958.  He was immortalized as part of a series of portraits by Andy Warhol in the mid-1970’s….while the real lasting memory of Willie The Shoe resides in the mind of our Bone Daddy…..who recalls The Shoe as being the definitive choice while spending the 1st Saturday in May in front of the television during his life in Midland, Texas during the decade of the 1950’s.  Any way you cut the pie…..when it comes to sports in Texas…..Willie The Shoe stands every bit as tall as fellow Texas Legend The Diesel Shaquille O’Neal.                                                                                                                       

Music & Horse Racing 1949 To 1979 – Mellissa Etheridge Sings Giant In Memorium To Jockey Bill Shoemaker

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