Updated: Apr 24
On this day 24th April 1981
Jockey Bill Shoemaker won his 8000th race on this day. Shoemaker always road fast and clean and smart and comfortable. He never whipped a thoroughbred who put as much heart into the Oval as he did. He had sharp eyes, quick wits, a surgeons hands and a body that stopped growing when most teenagers are just starting.
He had the most magnificent horses, the most exceptional rides, the greatest career and he stood beside the high and mighty in winners circles from Malaysia to Montana. He was often quiet, usually smiling, always gracious.
"Horses always ran for him, "said Charlie Whittingham. "Why? Who knows. It's like trying to define class. It's a secret.
"If I knew why there would be a lot more riders like him. He's patient; he works a horse with hands and without a whip better than almost anybody and nothing ever bothers him."
"But the best thing about Bill Shoemaker, "Whittingham added, "is that all the success hasn't changed him one iota. He is one of the rare guys whose head never got bigger than his rear. "
After six decades and a world record 8833 wins, 6136 places and 4987 shows, $12,368,024 in purses collected.
Reason for retiring
"When you don't do it as well as you used to," Shoemaker said, "when you're used to being one of the top guys and getting the top horses and now you're the second choice, that's when you say to yourself that it's time to quit." Shoemaker is leaving to play golf and tennis a little more often and see his friends and families a little more often. But he will not be away from the track for long.
Born a month prematurely on August 19, 1931, he was wrapped in a dolls blanket, tucked into a shoebox and propped up on pillow inside another into incubate. When the doctor pulled him out and spanked him, baby Shoemaker refused to utter a sound.
Even at that early date, Shoemaker had two of the characteristics he would carry the rest of his life: his small stature (he never grew above 4 foot 11) and reticence that would earn him the moniker "Silent Shoe. "