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Keeping Tradition : Shoemaker Races in 22nd Opening at Del Mar, but Doesn't Win

July 24, 1986|MARC APPLEMAN | Times Staff Writer

DEL MAR — Imagine an opening day at Del Mar without hearing Bing Crosby's "Where the Turf Meets the Surf?"

It's as unthinkable as opening day without the legendary Bill Shoemaker.

No opening day mounts for Shoemaker would be like resting Babe Ruth in the home opener.

Those things just don't happen.

Especially not at Del Mar, where Shoemaker has almost 300 more victories than any other jockey. And where Shoemaker won his 6,033rd race aboard Dares J Sept. 7, 1970, to break Johnny Longden's world record of 6,032 victories.

Yet, until Tuesday, Shoemaker was planning to spend the 47th opening day at Del Mar at the beach with his 6-year-old daughter, Amanda.

"It would have been a first here," said Shoemaker, who has raced on 22 opening days at Del Mar. "My people didn't have horses running today. It doesn't make any difference. It happens.

"I'll get a chance to lay in the sun with my daughter and swim at the beach."

Then came a phone call Tuesday that ruined an off day and continued a streak.

Jockey Rafael Meza would miss the Del Mar meet with a fractured collarbone.

Would Shoemaker take Meza's mount aboard Smokey Orbit in the 40th running of the Oceanside Stakes?

"A day off once in a while is fun," Shoemaker said while playing pinochle in the trainer's room before Wednesday's feature race. "But beating these guys in cards is also fun."

Racing and being around the track is what makes Shoemaker tick. Even at 54.

Shortly after the final strands of "Where The Turf Meets The Surf" were played on the loud speaker Wednesday, Shoemaker entered the track.

What about Amanda?

"She has plenty of friends to play with," Shoemaker said.

So does The Shoe.

Shortly after the first race began, Shoemaker was playing cards with his cronies. He lit up a cigar, threw a towel around his neck and smiled.

"You're all back together again," one of the younger jockeys yelled out as he passed by the card game.

Trainer Hans Beck, custodian of racing silks Frank Smothers and Shoemaker had set up their moving pinochle game.

From track to track and season to season, these guys are never without a deck of cards.

How many years has it been?

"Around 162," said the young jockey.

There were laughs all around. Especially from Shoemaker, who was winning.

At pinochle, that is.

Would Shoemaker pull a double? Win at pinochle and ride Smokey Orbit to victory? Would he pick up his sixth Oceanside Stakes win?

"I don't know anything about the horse," Shoemaker said before Wednesday's race. "But he's a bad horse."


"Actually, I'm just kidding," Shoemaker said. "He might have a shot. They all have to run around there. You can't win if you're not in it."

Smokey Orbit--a 22-1 long shot that was winless in eight races this year--finished in another orbit Wednesday.

The 3-year-old chestnut gelding was last, approximately 17 lengths behind winner Prince Bobby B.

It was just another start for Shoemaker, who has left the gate 38,544 times.

But this was a special start.

The streak continues.

"Without Shoe," said an attendant in the jockey locker room, "opening day would not be opening day."

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