Peers Remember Shoemaker

Times Staff Writer

Laffit Pincay Jr. was going to call Bill Shoemaker on Sunday to ask his friend of nearly 40 years if he wanted to come to his Arcadia home to watch the Breeders’ Cup on Oct. 25.

Pincay -- who passed Shoemaker with victory No. 8,834 in 1999 to become the world’s winningest jockey -- had planned to call Saturday night, but had gone out. When he arrived home, he decided that it was too late to disturb Shoemaker.

Pincay never got the chance to talk to his former rival. Shoemaker, 72, passed away in his sleep Sunday morning.


“It’s a very sad moment,” Pincay said. “We’ve been good friends for so long, and we had a lot of great times together. He was a guy I admired a lot in everything he did throughout his life.

“He was a guy who never lost his temper, always took things in stride, and he was always the same whether he won or lost. He was extremely classy. After his accident, he never complained. He was always very positive.”

Pincay also remembered how gracious his friend was when he passed Shoemaker’s record for wins on Dec. 10, 1999, riding winner No. 8,834 on Irish Nip at Hollywood Park, and when he reached other milestones before an injury forced his retirement this spring.

“He always told me that if somebody was going to break his records, he was glad it was me,” he said. “He told me I deserved it.”

Fellow hall of famer Eddie Delahoussaye, who retired in January because of an injury suffered more than a year ago at Del Mar, also was close to the man he competed against for many years.

“He was a very good friend who suffered a lot the last 12 years, but he never complained,” Delahoussaye said. “You never know what is going to happen to you in life, but Bill took it the way it came. He was one of the toughest guys you’ll ever meet.


“If he was your friend, he was your friend. He was true. He was always straightforward, there was no bull with him, and that’s why I liked him.

“I would have to say he was the best rider I ever saw, and I think a lot of people would say that. He had the timing, the ability to judge the pace, and he had the touch with those animals. He was just a natural.”

Chris McCarron, who concluded his brilliant career in June 2002 and is now the general manager of Santa Anita, rode against Shoemaker for more than a decade locally and remained close after Shoemaker’s retirement in February 1990.

“He was one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing,” said McCarron, another hall of famer. “Forget about his ability to communicate with horses, his compassion for people was second to none.

“There’s no way I would have been able to survive as long as Bill did in the condition that he was in. It’s just a further testimony to his character and his fortitude. It’s just an incredible loss.”

McCarron joined members of the current jockey colony at Santa Anita in the winner’s circle after Sunday’s second race to honor Shoemaker with a moment of silence. A moving video tribute followed on the big screen in the track’s infield showing various snapshots of Shoemaker’s life and race footage featuring some of the best horses he rode.


Ray York, who broke into the game at the same time as Shoemaker in 1949, didn’t know his friend and former golf buddy had died when contacted by a reporter.

“Oh, no, no,” he said. “I can’t believe it. We did so many things together. He was a great, great guy and a great sport.

“I was introduced to him in 1949 and we were friends from then on. I rented an apartment from him when I was riding at Santa Anita, and I remember when I won the Kentucky Derby in 1954 [aboard Determine] how he and Eddie Arcaro were so classy when they congratulated me.”

Angel Cordero Jr., a hall of famer who spent some time riding regularly in California and who now works as the agent for New York-based jockey John Velazquez, cited the influence Shoemaker and Arcaro had on riders.

“They rode a long time ago when nobody knew how to ride,” Cordero told Associated Press. “They developed their own style, and we all learned from them.”

Best known for his skill on the turf, Fernando Toro, who lives in Del Mar, hadn’t seen Shoemaker in about two years, he said, but that didn’t detract from their friendship.


“He was my idol,” said the Chilean-born Toro, a fixture in the local riding colony for more than 20 years after arriving in 1970. “He was not only a great jockey, but a great person.

“He was always one of the group, he never thought he was better than anybody else, and he treated everybody the same way and always had something nice to say to everybody.

“He called me ‘Bull’ and I called him ‘Senor Shoe.’ When he wasn’t in the jockey’s room for whatever reason, the place was not the same.

“In my opinion, he’s the greatest rider of all time. It was all in his hands. He was patient, he had great balance on a horse, and he never overused the whip. It’s a sad, sad day for us.”


(Begin Text of Infobox)


Bill Shoemaker was born on Aug. 19, 1931, in Fabens, Texas, at 3 a.m. to B.B. and Ruby Shoemaker. The future jockey weighed in at 1 pound 13 ounces. His riding career began 18 years later. He died Sunday at his San Marino home. Some of the memorable moments in Shoemaker’s career as a jockey:



March 19: In his first race, rode Waxahachie to fifth-place finish for trainer George Reeves at Golden Gate Fields.


April 20: On the third mount of his career, he earned his first victory, riding a 3-year-old filly named Shafter V to a 2 1/4-length victory in a $2,000 race for $3,000 claiming horses at Golden Gate Fields.

Oct. 26: Won his first stakes race, aboard Al, in the George Marshall Claiming Handicap at Bay Meadows.



Oct. 13: At Bay Meadows, he won six races in a day for the first time.

Dec. 31: Won three races at Caliente while Joe Culmone was winning three at Oriental Park in Havana, leaving them tied for the North American riding title with 388 victories apiece.



For the year: Won a record 485 races and rode horses that earned $1.7 million to lead nationally in both categories.



Feb. 27: Rode Rejected for his first of 11 victories in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Sept. 4: Won six consecutive races at Del Mar.

Oct. 20: With Florence House at Tanforan, he won his 2,000th race.



May 7: Made a quick recovery from a knee injury that was supposed to sideline him for a month and won the Kentucky Derby with Swaps, the first of 11 victories in Triple Crown races.

Oct. 29: Won first of about 250 stakes for trainer Charlie Whittingham, the victory coming aboard Mister Gus in the Kyne Handicap at Bay Meadows.




March 3: Won Santa Anita Derby with Terrang, the first of eight victories in the race.

July 14: Rode Swaps for the first of his nine victories in the Hollywood Gold Cup.



May 4: Misjudged the finish line with Gallant Man in the Kentucky Derby, finishing second by a nose to Iron Liege.

June 15: With Gallant Man, he won first of five Belmont Stakes.



Jan. 31: Aboard Eternal Prince at Santa Anita, he earned his 3,000th victory.

August: Inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame at Saratoga Springs, N.Y.



May 2: After agent Harry Silbert talked him out of riding Sword Dancer, he rode Tomy Lee to victory in the Kentucky Derby.



May 19: At Hollywood Park, he rode Guaranteeya for his 4,000th victory.



June 9: Rode Jaipur to victory by a nose over Admiral’s Voyage in the Belmont.

June 12: At Hollywood Park, he became the first jockey to win 1,000 races at one track.



May 18: With Candy Spots, he won his first Preakness.



May 2: After winning the Flamingo and Florida Derby with Northern Dancer, he chose to ride Hill Rise in Kentucky Derby. Northern Dancer and Bill Hartack beat Hill Rise by a neck.

Oct. 22: Rode 5,000th winner, aboard Slapstick at Aqueduct.

End of year: With purses totaling $2.6 million, he was the national leader for the seventh consecutive year.



May 1: Won Kentucky Derby with Lucky Debonair.



Oct. 28: Won Jockey Club Gold Cup, his seventh $100,000 victory of the year, all aboard Damascus, who was voted horse of the year.



Jan. 23: Broke right thigh bone in spill at Santa Anita and was sidelined for more than a year.




Feb. 11: Returning from the 1968 injury, he won with first two mounts at Santa Anita and had three victories for the day.

April 30: Three days before he was to ride Arts and Letters in the Kentucky Derby, he was crushed by a horse in a spill at Hollywood Park, suffering a broken pelvis, ruptured bladder and other injuries. He was sidelined four months.

Sept. 1: Returning to racing, he won the Arlington-Washington Lassie with Clover Lane.



Aug. 8: At Del Mar, he rode Shining Count for 6,000th victory.

Sept. 7: At Del Mar, he broke Johnny Longden’s record by riding Dares J. for his 6,033rd victory.



June 24: Taken off Cougar II by owner Mary Jones Bradley for the Hollywood Gold Cup, he won race with Kennedy Road.



March 14: Rode Royal Derby II at Santa Anita for his 7,000th victory.



July 3: Rode J.O. Tobin to upset win over Seattle Slew, the undefeated Triple Crown champion, in Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park.



Sept. 20: Won with Spectacular Bid in a walkover in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont.



May 27: At Hollywood Park, War Allied gave him 8,000th victory.

Aug. 30: Rode John Henry to victory in thoroughbred racing’s first seven-figure purse, the Arlington Million, beating The Bart by a nose.




March 7: After disqualification of Perrault, he won Santa Anita Handicap with John Henry for the second straight year.



July 4: Chose to ride The Wonder instead of John Henry in the American Handicap at Hollywood Park. John Henry won the race; The Wonder finished next to last.



March 3: Became first jockey to reach $100-million mark in purses when Lord at War won the Santa Anita Handicap.



May 3: At 54, became oldest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, aboard Ferdinand.



Nov. 21: Rode Ferdinand to victory by a nose over Alysheba in the $3-million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Hollywood Park.

For the year: Set personal record by riding horses that earned $7.1 million.



April 30: Riding Peace, he won John Henry Handicap at Hollywood Park for 1,000th stakes victory.



Jan. 20: Rode Beau Genius in Hallandale Handicap at Gulfstream for 1,009th stakes victory and 8,833rd win overall.


Feb. 3: In his final race, he finished fourth aboard Patchy Groundfog at Santa Anita.