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Feb 3, 1990: Shoemaker hangs up boots
- Updated: February 3, 2017
On February 3, 1990, Bill Shoemaker finally retired as a jockey to work as a trainer.
Born William Lee Shoemaker on August 19, 1931 in Fabens, Texas, on a tiny cotton farm no less, he was a premature baby and so shrunken that his parents feared he would die within hours.
But the wizened fella survived, aided by being put in a shoe box and kept near the oven to keep warm. Still, he never grew normally and in adulthood, reached the dizzying height of just 4 feet and eleven inches, while weighing a rather corpulent 105 pounds.
In life, with over emphasis on the perfect body, this would normally be seen as disastrous, but in the horse racing world, it was positively God-sent and part of the key to his incredible dominance and winning formula.
He failed to finish high school and began his illustrious career while still a teenager. During the course of it, he accumulated a positively jaw-dropping 8833 victories, and by the time he was 19, he was collecting up to $2.50 weekly, which in today’s equivalent would be a hefty sum.
His last race as a jockey was on the 3rd of February 1990 as he rode Patchy Groundfog to a fourth place finish in Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California.
Later that year, he was awarded the Mike Venezia Memorial award for ‘extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship’.
Over his life as a jockey, he rode in an astounding 40,350 races.
In 42 years, the petite Shoemaker won 11 triple crown races, 1,009 stakes races and 10 national money titles. He also earned more than $123 million in purses, about $10 million of which he received himself.
After his retirement, he became a trainer, but this was cut short when he suffered a car accident while drunk driving and was paralyzed from the waist down as a consequence.
Incredibly, he resumed his work as a horse trainer, this time in an electric wheelchair.
He had some success until he finally retired from such strenuous activity on November 2, 1997.
He died peacefully in his sleep on October 12, 2013.