Legends Of Horse Racing: Bill Shoemaker

Horse racing has seen its fair share of legends. However, not every legend in the races was a horse, some of the most incredible participants were the jockeys. Both horse and jockey are equally integral to the outcome of the race.

We take this into consideration when we are horse betting during the Belmont Stakes, you cannot just consider the horse, but who is on the horse as well. Typically, a good jockey can bring out the absolute best in a horse.

This is why it is important to not only focus on the horse, but also the rider, and some of the jockeys we have seen have had incredible successes with a number of different horses.

One of these jockeys we are referring to is Bill Shoemaker.

The Legend

Bill Shoemaker was an American jockey, born in Texas. He won 8,833 career victories, his notable wins include 4 Kentucky Derby victories spread out in 1955, 1959, 1965, and 1986.

There was always a saying that if you want to understand a jockey, but don’t fancy getting on a horse, you should shake their hand. Many jockeys tend to have a strong handshake, but Bill Shoemaker didn’t. He had a powerful right hand, but it was a gentle hand.

Shoemaker was a man with a hand that was strong but delicate, this is perhaps confusing to many, considering the work of a jockey includes having control over an animal at least 5 times their own weight.

However, having a light hand lets the horse know they still have freedom, but it gives the rider control. Shoemaker had soft hands, but soft hands which would take up a horse’s reigns and make him the man in charge.

It might sound counterproductive to have such a gentle touch, but these ‘soft hands’ guided 8,833 wins, won $123 million in purses and did amazing things on the track.

He got a run out of every horse, he was smooth, and he was calm, but was this all an act, or was it exactly what made him so successful?

Part of being a good jockey is being cool and collected, which is exactly what Shoemaker was, he wasn’t brash, and he didn’t panic, he was calm, which also meant the horse would be calm too.

Whatever his magic trick was, it certainly led to a lot of wins!

A Horses’ Best Friend

Many would say he was a horse’s best friend. He was a small man, standing at 4 ft 11, weighing only 98 lbs, he didn’t look like the type that could tackle a few grocery sacks, let alone a brash thoroughbred, but he did.

He had that special something that bonds a horse and rider. The right touch, the right persona, the light touch on the reigns, the ability to coax the horse just the right way, with the right amount of contact that made the horse feel comfortable.

Horses would happily just run for him, he didn’t have to push them, his light touch was so delicate, he could’ve ridden with spider’s silk.

This is part of it though, pair a moody colt who doesn’t respond well to a tight reign with a man who has delicate fingers, and you have your magic. Some horses won’t respond well to a harsh reign, something gentle and loose will make them comfortable, and make them run.

It was Shoemaker who taught the horse riding world this. His gentle touch had every horse happy, and he could get a horse to do just about whatever he wanted.

They loved him for this, and they would thank him for this delicacy by going for absolute gold when he said so.

He rode a total of 40,350 horses and won with 8,833 of them.

His light touch won him 11 Triple Crowns, 1,009 Stakes races, and 10 national money titles.

In his generation he was noted as being the greatest athlete.

Determination Is The Key

Shoemaker had his first Kentucky Derby victory in 1955 with Swaps. His second was probably already within his vision. He was riding a Gallant Man however he mistook the 16th pole for the finish, stood up and Iron Liege won by a nose.

He had plenty of victories otherwise though. He never had any major injuries, not until he entered his 40s, however, his luck deserted him when he took a frightful fall on Bal Brush in a pile up.

A horse that had been trailing him stepped in his thigh and shattered the bone. However, this is when Shoemaker showed us that determination is the key to success. He returned 13 months later, fully healed and raring to go.

He raced at Santa Anita Park, and he won with every one of the 3 mounts he rode that day.

Then later on, at 54 years of age, he became the oldest jockey to win a Kentucky Derby race, he took Ferdinand through a very small opening in a race that was probably his greatest ride ever.

He had some amazing victories over the years, until he retired, when he became a trainer, and he lost control of his Ford Bronco, he went down a 50ft embankment, severing his spinal cord, thus paralyzing him.

Yet, after he rehabilitated, he returned using a mouth controlled wheelchair.

If Shoemaker taught us anything, he taught us that determination is the key.

Amazing Statistics For A Legendary Jockey

Shoemaker had many amazing awards in his time, he was the United States Champion Jockey by earnings for 10 years. He was also the United States Champion Jockey by wins in ‘50, ‘53, ‘54, ‘58, and ‘59. He won the George Woolfe Memorial Jockey Award too.

In ‘69 he won the Big Sport of Turfdom Award, in ‘81 the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey, as well as the Eclipse Award of Merit. And in 1990 he got the Mike Venezia Memorial Award as well.

And every day, his name reminds us that sometimes determination and a gentle hand go a long way.

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