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Bill Shoemaker 1931 - 2003

Bill Shoemaker
© Russell Cheyne/Getty Images Sport

Dateline: 10/12/03

On Sunday, October 12, racing lost one of its legends when Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker died in his sleep at his home in San Marino, California, at the age of 72.

Having won 8,833 races in his career which spanned some forty years, from 1949 to his retirement in 1990, "The Shoe" held the world record as Thoroughbred racing's winningest rider, until Laffit Pincay Jr. eclipsed his mark in 1999. Pincay still holds the record with 9,530.

During his long career he won the Kentucky Derby four times, his last one being aboard Ferdinand in 1986 at the age of 54, making him the oldest Derby winning jockey. The next year he rode Ferdinand to a thrilling win over 1987 Derby winner Alysheba in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic. He also won the Preakness twice, the Belmont five times, the Jockey Club Gold Cup four times, the Santa Anita Handicap eleven times, and the Santa Anita Derby and Hollywood Gold Cup eight times each.

He rode many other great horses including Spectacular Bid, Round Table, Ack Ack, and Forego. He's also remembered as being the regular rider of John Henry and guided the gelding to a nose win in the inaugural Arlington Million. Unfortunately, with all those wins he may be most remembered for the "one that got away", when, aboard Gallant Man dueling down the stretch in the 1957 Derby, he mistook the 1/16 pole as the finish and stood up, allowing Iron Liege to catch him at the wire by a nose.


This statue at Arlington Park commemorates Shoemaker's victory on John Henry over The Bart in the first Arlington Million.
With his successes came many well-deserved accolades. He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1958, and also won Eclipse Awards in 1976 and 1981, the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1951 and the Mike Venezia Award in 1990.

After his retirement from riding in 1990, he switched to training and quickly scored his first Grade 1 victory in the 1991 Beverly Hills Handicap when his fillies Alcando and Fire The Groom finished 1-2 in the event. Although he was never as successful as a trainer as he had been as a jockey, he did have 157 winners, including 30 stakes winners and 13 graded stakes winners. Likely he would have done better had he not be paralyzed in a single vehicle accident in April 1991 left him a quadriplegic.

In "The Red Smith Reader" legendary turf writer Red Smith wrote: "If Bill Shoemaker were six-feet tall and weighed 200 pounds, he could beat anybody in any sport. Standing less than five feet and weighing around 100 pounds, he beats everybody at what he does. Pound for pound, he's got to be the greatest living athlete." Echoing Red Smith's sentiments, NTRA commissioner Tim Smith released the following statement: "Bill Shoemaker, pound for pound, was one of the best athletes of the 20th century, with a rare combination of poise, grace and courage. He was an ambassador for our game, and the entire sport will miss him."

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