Thursday, October 17, 2013


Shoemaker Still Reins Supreme

But At 56, He`s Looking Forward To A Future As A Trainer

May 22, 1988|By Cathy Harasta, Dallas Morning News.
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ARCADIA, CALIF. — It rained on the morning of March 19, 1949, the day a stringy, 17-year-old exercise rider named Bill Shoemaker forgot to wear an extra pair of goggles. The Golden Gate Fields track in Albany, Calif., was an orbit of mud for Shoemaker`s inaugural race as a jockey.
His mount, a filly named Waxahachie, was a familiar companion from early morning exercise gallops. But the mud congealed on Shoemaker`s goggles during the six furlongs. He could not see where he was going, and Waxahachie went on to finish an unremarkable fifth.
Shoemaker, however, went on and on. He remembered to wear spare goggles on wet days. And he went on to an unprecedented riding career, including more thoroughbred victories (more than 8,750), stakes race titles (991), earnings
(more than $119 million) and purses of more than $100,000 (248) than any other jockey.
In his 40th year of riding, Shoemaker is looking ahead and preparing for the longer run, the time beyond riding.
Oh, his eyes are sharp and his hands steady as ever. The end still is not in sight. After-some say if-Shoemaker retires from riding, he says his new tack likely will be training horses. And Shoemaker is preparing for that time, getting up early to work the horses stabled in the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham at Santa Anita Park.
``I enjoy the morning parts now as much as the afternoons of racing,``
said Shoemaker. ``Maybe I even enjoy the mornings more. When I don`t think I can do it (ride) physically, I won`t do it.``
It is that simple for the soft-spoken, Texas-born horseman, who says he never has forgotten a horse among the thousands he has coaxed to the finish.
``Forget Waxahachie?`` said Shoemaker, who lives in nearby San Marino with his wife Cindy and their 7-year-old daughter, Amanda. ``Never. That was the beginning.``
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The beginning was a humble one for William Lee Shoemaker, born in the West Texas farm community of Fabens. Though he says many of the stories about his birth have been embellished over the years, the one about the shoebox as his first cradle is true.
Shoemaker`s maternal grandmother, Maudie Harris, tenderly arranged the infant, who weighed about two pounds, in a pillow-lined shoebox and warmed the box on the open oven door.
``That one`s true,`` Shoemaker said with a laugh. ``They kept me warm.``
But Shoemaker said tales of his Depression-era childhood that included picking cotton have been exaggerated. It was not strictly a time of toil, he said.
``We had a great time,`` said Shoemaker, who lived on a ranch near Winters, Tex., after his parents divorced. ``I was on a ranch and around horses. It was fun, and I enjoyed myself with my grandmother and grandfather. I have happy memories of Texas.``
He rode his first horse on that ranch near Abilene when he was 4 or 5, using a nearby fence as a ladder to climb onto the old horse`s back. Shoemaker said that mount might have been exhilarating for a preschool child, but it was years before riding became his mission.
When Shoemaker was 10, he moved to El Monte, Calif., with his father. His father, B.B. Shoemaker, found work in a tire factory.
He was a freshman at El Monte High when he first learned from a schoolmate what a jockey was. Shoemaker went to work on a La Puente ranch, where he made up his mind to become a jockey. He dropped out of high school to work and board at the ranch, where the atmosphere provided him with the focus that was to become his destiny.
Harry Silbert, who died in 1987 at the age of 75, became Shoemaker`s agent in 1949 and booked almost all of Shoemaker`s mounts. Shoemaker, who lived with the Silbert family when he was starting out, regarded Harry as a father figure and overriding career influence. In his recently published autobiography, ``Shoemaker: America`s Greatest Jockey,`` Shoemaker wrote of Silbert: ``We never had a contract, and we never had an argument. He took me on as a kid and made me a man.``
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Alan Sherman, a 19-year-old apprentice jockey at Santa Anita, said Shoemaker never puts on airs.
``He has been my idol all my life, and now I play cards with him in the jockeys` room,`` Sherman said. ``He plays little jokes on you, like sneaking up behind you and pressing a warm steel coffee spoon against your arm.``
Between games of ``racehorse rummy,`` which pass the time for jockeys waiting for their races, Sherman said Shoemaker, if urged, will tell stories of long-ago horses. Sherman said he is amazed at Shoemaker`s longevity.
Said Sherman, ``I don`t think I`ll still be riding when I`m 56. He just loves the sport so much.``
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Shoemaker attributes his long career to three factors: ``I`ve had some injuries, but I have not had a career-breaking injury,`` he said. ``And as a natural lightweight, I don`t have to reduce. Also, I`ve had good horses to ride.``
Others say Shoemaker brings out the best in virtually every horse he rides.

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