William Lee Shoemaker, a 4-foot 11-inch, 95 lb. jockey who won more than 8,800 races, died on Oct. 12 of natural causes. He was 72.
As a teenager, Shoemaker won the Golden Gloves boxing championship in the 95-to-105-pound division, but dropped out of high school to become a jockey. He won his first race in 1949 on Shafter V at Golden Gate Fields, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1958.
During his four-decade career, “The Shoe” won 11 Triple Crowns, two Preakness Stakes, five Belmont Stakes and more than $123 million in purses. In 1986, he became the oldest jockey to win a Kentucky Derby; He was 54 years old, and it was his fourth Kentucky Derby victory. The following year, he and his horse, Ferdinand, won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and captured Horse of the Year honors.
“Bill Shoemaker, pound-for-pound, was one of the best athletes of the 20th century with a rare combination of poise, grace and courage. He was an ambassador for our game and the entire sport will miss him,” Tim Smith, commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said.
The second winningest jockey of all time retired from racing in 1990 with plans to become a horse trainer. Soon after he won his first race as a trainer with Tempest Cloud, Shoemaker became a quadriplegic in a drunk driving accident. He broke his neck when the Ford Bronco he was driving veered off a California highway and rolled down an embankment. He underwent six months of rehabilitation then returned to train horses for another six years — from his wheelchair.