Bill Shoemaker’s death Sunday morning marks the end of an era.
Confined to a wheelchair and unable to so much as scratch his nose since becoming a quadriplegic in a one-vehicle accident on April 8, 1991, Shoemaker never complained about the hand he was dealt.
It wasn’t his style, and ”˜The Shoe’ had more "style" than anyone.
"He was one of the greatest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing in my life," retired Hall of Fame rider Chris McCarron told me. "Forget about his ability to communicate with horses. His compassion for people was second to none. He stuck around for as long as he did for his daughter (Amanda). There’s no way I would have been able to survive as long as Bill did in the condition that he was in. It’s just further testimony to his character and his fortitude. It’s just an incredible loss."
Shoemaker, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1958, retired from riding on Feb. 3, 1990, after a career of more than 41 years in which he rode 8,833 winners, the record until surpassed by Laffit Pincay Jr. on Dec. 10, 1999.
"This is a very sad time for me," Pincay said from his home in Arcadia Sunday. "I talked with ”˜Shoe’ three or four days ago about a trip I had taken to New York to help find a cure for paralysis. I told him how close they were to finding a cure and he was very excited and sounded happy about it.
"I was going to call him again last night to invite him to my house to watch the Breeders’ Cup (on Oct. 25), but I went out with Alex Solis and by the time we got home, it was too late to call. This morning I was out walking with my wife, Jeanine, when I got a call from Bob (Pincay’s former agent, Bob Meldahl) who told me that Shoe had died. We were good friends for many, many years. He was my idol when I came to this country and he was always a Class-A guy. I know he wasn’t happy in that wheel chair, but he never complained."
Born in Fabens, Texas, on Aug. 19, 1931, Shoemaker "died in his sleep of natural causes," according to trainer Paddy Gallagher, a long-time friend who was at Shoemaker’s home Sunday. Gallagher, 46, was Shoemaker’s assistant trainer until Shoemaker retired from training in November of 1997.
Shoemaker won his 8,833 races from 40,350 rides, with 6,136 seconds, 4,987 thirds and earnings of $123,375,524. Shoemaker’s last victory came on Jan. 20,1990, aboard Beau Genius in the Hallandale Handicap at Gulfstream Park. His last mount, Patchy Groundfog, came at Santa Anita on Feb. 3, 1990. He finished fourth in a race billed as "The Legend’s Last Ride."
Gallagher said funeral arrangements are pending.