Shoemaker, William Lee 1931-2003 (Bill Shoemaker)

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SHOEMAKER, William Lee 1931-2003
(Bill Shoemaker)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born August 19, 1931, in Fabens, TX; died October 12, 2003, in San Marino, CA. Horse jockey and author. Shoemaker was one of the world's most famous jockeys, having won eleven Triple Crown races, including four Kentucky Derby championships, and being admitted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1958. Born at a weight of only one pound, thirteen ounces, doctors thought he would not survive, yet even though he only grew to stand less than five feet tall, Shoemaker became a remarkable athlete. Enjoying horses more than school, he was not a great student, and his size prevented him from playing such sports as football. However, he became an outstanding wrestler. Dropping out of high school before his senior year, he started working at a horse ranch, where he learned how to ride thoroughbreds properly. By the age of seventeen, he was participating in horse races, and by 1949 he had already won 219 races. He set a single-season record in 1953 when he won 485 races, and, after winning 380 more races the next year, he established a new record for winning percentages. More milestones were made in 1958, when Shoemaker won his three thousandth race, and in 1961, when he won his four thousandth, a feat only four jockeys have ever accomplished. Tragedy struck in 1968, however, when Shoemaker fell off his horse and suffered a serious leg fracture. Fearing his career was over, he managed to return to racing after several months of therapy. Bad luck visited him again in 1969 when a horse fell on him and broke the jockey's pelvis. Again, he managed to recover and was in the media spotlight in 1970 as he closed in on the all-time win record of 6,032 set by John Longden. He broke that record on September 7, 1970, continuing on to win his seven thousandth race in 1976. Amazingly, Shoemaker continued racing into the 1980s, even when critics felt he was too old. Age finally caught up with him, however, and he retired in 1990 after winning 8,833 races. After retiring, Shoemaker settled down in California and worked as a trainer. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious injury in 1991 when his car fell off an embankment and he was paralyzed from the neck down. Although he remained a quadriplegic for the rest of his life, Shoemaker's spirit was indomitable. He continued physical therapy and his job as a trainer until he retired in 1997. Even in retirement, though, he remained as active as possible, and served as honorary chair of the Paralysis Project. Shoemaker also wrote several books, including The Shoe: Willie Shoemaker's Illustrated Book of Racing (1976), Stalking Horse (1995), Fire Horse (1995), and Dark Horse (1996).



Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 21, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Los Angeles Times, October 13, 2003, pp. A1, A10.

New York Times, October 13, 2003, p. A16.

Washington Post, October 13, 2003, p. B4.