If it’s Friday night, this must be Hollywood Park.
And if it’s Saturday, it must be Wyoming Downs, in a town of fewer than 7,000 people on the Wyoming-Utah border.
From the big leagues to the bushes, this is the nature of Bill Shoemaker’s last hurrah in the United States. Monmouth Park one week, Northlands Park the next. Shoemaker, who will turn 58 in less than a month, certainly knows his way around a race track, but in reaching some of the stops on his retirement tour, racing’s most successful jockey may need a compass and a divining rod.
Shoemaker just finished an eight-country, 14-track trip through Europe, and while he may be disoriented by the time he finishes off North America in September, at least his American curtain call begins tonight at Hollywood Park. This is the track where Shoemaker has scored some of his most satisfying victories and also suffered some of his biggest setbacks.
It was at Hollywood Park where Shoemaker notched victory No. 4,000, and victory No. 8,000, and victory No. 8,500, en route to a total of 8,808 mark.
It was at Hollywood Park in 1987 when Shoemaker and Ferdinand held off Alysheba to win the $3-million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
It was at Hollywood Park, earlier this year, where Shoemaker reached the 1,000 mark in stakes victories. He has 1,002.
It was at Hollywood Park where Shoemaker won 15 straight riding titles, from 1953 through 1967.
It was at Hollywood Park where Shoemaker rode his first important horse, Swaps, to victories that meant the horse-of-the-year title in 1956. That was such a long time ago that it came before four of the jockeys riding against Shoemaker in tonight’s Sunset Handicap were born. Shoemaker, winner of the Sunset an incredible 13 times, took the stake the first time in 1956 with Swaps. He’s riding No Review, a longshot filly, in tonight’s Sunset, which will be the seventh race on a nine-race card that begins at 7.
It was at Hollywood where Shoemaker rode Kennedy Road to victory in the 1973 Gold Cup, which was his most satisfying win until Ferdinand, in 1986, made Shoemaker, then 54, the oldest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. In 1973, Shoemaker was supposed to ride his regular companion, Cougar II, in the Gold Cup, but he was taken off the horse by the owner, Mary Jones Bradley, and won the race anyway as Cougar II finished third with Laffit Pincay.
“I got no grudge,” Shoemaker said. “Mary gave me the winner of the race, didn’t she?”
Hollywood Park has represented a downside for Shoemaker, too.
In 1972, he was outridden by Jerry Lambert, who gunned Convenience to an early lead and then hung on to win by a head over Typecast and Shoemaker in a $250,000 match race.
In 1956, in the Californian, the heavily favored Swaps took the lead in the stretch, but Shoemaker neglected to ride him out to the wire and Porterhouse, a stablemate, won the race with $178,000 to win on Swaps going down the drain. That was one of only two losses in 10 starts by Swaps that year, and was actually a preview of Shoemaker’s more well-known boner the following year, when he misjudged the finish line with Gallant Man at the Kentucky Derby and allowed Iron Liege to beat them at the wire.
Worst of all for Shoemaker at Hollywood Park was the April afternoon in 1969--three days before he was to ride Arts and Letters in the Kentucky Derby--when a 3-year-old maiden filly named Poona’s Day reared up in the paddock. Shoemaker was thrown into a hedge, pinned against a stone wall, with the filly on top of him. He suffered a broken pelvis, a ruptured bladder, a temporary paralysis of the left leg and was in the operating room for 2 1/2 hours. Shoemaker had been riding for only 2 1/2 months and still had a pin in his right thigh, the result of a spill at Santa Anita in January of 1968. The Hollywood Park injuries kept him on the ground for four more months.
“Shoe showed a lot of courage,” said Dr. Robert Kerlan, who operated on him both times. “After the second accident, he had the chance to gracefully retire, but at no time during his recuperation did he ever talk about quitting. He was determined to come back, and would run a mile every morning in order to get fit again.”
Shoemaker had his 38th birthday on Aug. 19 in 1969, then was back in the saddle by Labor Day. By early the next year, he was on top again, winning the Santa Anita Derby with Terlago, finishing in a dead heat for first with Fiddle Isle in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap and then back at Hollywood Park, on June 24, he won with six out of seven mounts. By that that Labor Day, at Del Mar, Shoemaker has ridden his 6,033rd winner, breaking Johnny Longden’s record.
In the 51-year history of Hollywood Park, only two jockeys have won six races in a day. Laffit Pincay had six winners there in 1968 and Shoemaker did it for the first time with eight mounts on June 20, 1953.
“Shoe’s done a lot of things, but for my money this is his greatest accomplishment,” says Bob Benoit, a former executive at Hollywood Park. “It says everything there is to say about his long career (which started in 1949). The first time he won six races in a day at Hollywood he was 21, and then he comes back, at 38, to do it again 17 years later.
“This is no David Gall winning a lot of races in one day at Cahokia Downs. This is a guy winning race after race against top competition, almost 20 years after he did it the first time.”
Forever the stoic, Shoemaker got misty-eyed the day Ferdinand gave him his fourth Kentucky Derby victory. Another emotional occasion was when he beat Seattle Slew, the Triple Crown champion and 1-5 favorite, with J.O. Tobin at Hollywood Park in 1977.
Seattle Slew had won all nine of his races, but this day he finished far back. Shoemaker put J.O. Tobin, an unpredictable colt, on an early lead and kept him there as the colt missed the world record for 1 1/4 miles by only two-fifths of a second. Harry Silbert, the jockey’s late agent, thought that this was one of his finest rides.
Shoemaker must have thought so, too. Uncharacteristically, he triumphantly raised a fist in the air after J.O. Tobin crossed the finish line.
Seattle Slew lost only two more races before he was retired. One of them came against Exceller, ridden by Shoemaker in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
Fittingly, J.O. Tobin’s win at Hollywood came in the fourth running of the Swaps, the stake named after one of Shoemaker’s best horses. Shoemaker won the first edition, too, with Agitate in 1974.
“I always had a soft spot in my heart for Swaps,” Shoemaker said. “He was the first great horse I ever rode, even though he couldn’t run on a deep track or on soft turf.”
The horse Shoemaker rates ahead of all those he’s ridden is Spectacular Bid. Ronnie Franklin won the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with the colt, then was fired after a badly paced ride that his handlers thought was responsible for defeat in the Belmont. Shoemaker took over and in the final 13 months of Spectacular Bid’s career they won 12 out of 13 starts.
Two of the wins came at Hollywood Park in 1980, in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap and the Californian. Spectacular Bid carried 132 pounds in one race and 130 in the other. Cindy Shoemaker, the jockey’s third wife, weighed even more at the time. On June 22, Bill Shoemaker, trying to win the Hollywood Gold Cup for the eighth time, finished fourth with Bold Tropic, but he had a winner at Cedars-Sinai. The baby girl’s name was Amanda Shoemaker.
Horse Racing Notes
Estimates on appearance fees for Bill Shoemaker’s tour range from $10,000 to $75,000. A few big tracks have turned him down because of the expense. . . . The last ride, theoretically, is to come at Santa Anita next Feb. 4, but if a Kentucky Derby prospect dropped over the transom by then, the betting is heavy that he would un-retire. . . . Shoemaker has two other mounts tonight besides the Sunset. . . . On Aug. 10, Shoemaker will be riding a day-night doubleheader, at Monmouth Park and Atlantic City Race Course. . . . On Aug. 19, his 58th birthday, Shoemaker will be at Northlands Park in Alberta, Canada. . . . On Saturday, Shoemaker will be at Wyoming Downs, the thoroughbred-quarter horse track that went bankrupt after it opened in 1985. The track is 80 miles east of Salt Lake City. A typical Saturday crowd there is 2,000, but that may double on Saturday. Shoemaker will appear at a charity dinner for multiple sclerosis on Saturday night. . . . Starting in mid-September, Shoemaker will make a swing that includes New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Mexico. . . . Chris McCarron, who is one victory away from No. 5,000, has four mounts tonight. McCarron, who will be inducted into the racing Hall of Fame next month in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., won four races Thursday, one of them with River Master, who won the feature by three lengths over Mr. Dandy Dancer.
Favored Magical Mile drew the No. 1 post against six rivals for Saturday’s $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile for 2-year-olds. The other entrants are Real Cash, Restless Con, Drag Race, Cove Way, Forty Niner Days and Willing Worker.
SHOEMAKER HIGHLIGHTS AT HOLLYWOOD PARK 1950: Wins the Hollywood Oaks with Mrs. Fuddy for his first stakes victory at the track and the second of his career. This is the first of eight wins in Oaks.
1951: Wins two stakes in same day, with Special Touch in Hollywood Premiere and Gold Note in Will Rogers Handicap.
1953: Wins six races out of eight mounts.
1955: Wins second of eight Hollywood Derbys with Swaps.
1955: Two months after winning his first Kentucky Derby, with Swaps, they team to win the American Handicap, Shoemaker’s first $100,000 victory at Hollywood Park. This is one of five stakes wins for Swaps during the Hollywood season.
1956: Wins Hollywood Gold Cup with Swaps, first of three straight victories and eight wins overall in the stake.
1957: Riding Challenger Tom, finishes in triple dead heat for win.
1958: Wins first of 13 Sunset Handicaps with Gallant Man.
1959: Wins both divisions of Vanity Handicap with Tender Size and Zevs Joy.
1961: Gets his 4,000th career win.
1962: Becomes first jockey to win 1,000 races at one track.
1964: Wins a race on Ferdinand--not his 1986 Derby winner, but a horse who won only three times in 35 starts.
1966: Wins with Attention II on opening day, giving trainer Johnny Longden his first win at the track.
1967: Wins 80 races to wrap up 15th straight seasonal title.
1967: For one of the few times in his career, can’t make weight. Is one pound over for horse assigned to carry 107 pounds.
1970: Becomes only jockey in track history to win six times in one day for second time.
1971: Wins 18 stakes, 14 for Charlie Whittingham.
1972: Wins Californian for second straight year with Cougar II.
1978: Riding only 61 days of 78-day meet, wins 94 times.
1981: Gets his 8,000th career win.
1985: Registers 8,500th career win.
1987: Wins $3-million Breeders’ Cup Classic with Ferdinand, who clinched horse-of-the-year honors.
1988: Wins Silver Belles Handicap with Nastique for 250th career victory in races worth $100,000 or more.
1989: Wins Premiere Handicap with Peace for 1,000th career stakes win.