William "Bill" Lee Shoemaker

William Bill Lee Shoemaker

Riding Career:
1949 - 1990
Birth Date:
Death Date:
Hall of Fame:
Career Mounts:
Career Wins:
8,833 (21.9%)

Significant Mounts

Major Race Wins
Kentucky Derby (1955, 1959, 1965, 1986)
Belmont Stakes (1957, 1959, 1962, 1967, 1975)
Preakness Stakes (1963, 1967)
Breeders' Cup Classic (1987)

Awards / Honors
United States Champion Jockey by Wins (1950, 1953, 1954, 1958, 1959)
George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award (1951)
National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (1958)
Big Sport of Turfdom Award (1969)
Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey (1981)
Eclipse Award of Merit (1981)
Mike Venezia Memorial Award (1990)

William Lee Shoemaker was an American jockey.

Referred to as "Bill", "Willie," and "The Shoe", William Lee Shoemaker was born in the town of Fabens, Texas. At 2.5 pounds (1 kg), Shoemaker was so small at birth 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 (1.50 m) and weighing only 95 pounds (43 kg). His diminutive size proved an asset as he went on to become a giant in thoroughbred horse racing.

His career as a jockey began in his teenage years, 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 racer named Shafter V. In 1951, he won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award and 30 years later the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in the United States.

Shoemaker won 11 Triple Crown races during his career, but the 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)

Two of Shoemaker's most noted rides were at the Kentucky Derby. He lost the 1957 Kentucky Derby, aboard the mount Gallant Man, when he stood up in the stirrups too soon, having misjudged the finish line. He and Gallant Man ended up finishing second to Bill Hartack aboard Iron Liege. 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 to capture Horse of the Year honors.

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."

The Los Angeles Times quoted Bill Shoemaker as saying that Spectacular Bid was the best he rode.

When Shoemaker earned his 6,033rd victory in September 1970, he broke the record of jockey Johnny Longden. In 1999, Shoemaker's own record of 8,833 career victories was broken by Panamanian-born Laffit Pincay Jr.; the record is currently held by Jorge Ricardo.

Win number 8,833, Shoemaker's last, came at Gulfstream Park, Florida on January 20, 1990 aboard Beau Genius. Two weeks later, on February 3, Shoemaker rode in his very last race as a jockey, at Santa Anita Park. He finished 4th, aboard a horse by the name of Patchy Groundfog. 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".

Soon after retiring as a jockey, 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. Shoemaker was involved in a solo drunk-driving car accident on April 8, 1991 and the Bronco II he was driving rolled over in San Dimas, California. The accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. He was thereafter a wheelchair user. Shoemaker sued Ford and Ford settled for US$1,000,000. 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. He was immortalized as part of a series of portraits by Andy Warhol in the mid-1970s.

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