More than 60,000 fans may turn out at Santa Anita Saturday for the 40,352nd and last ride of Bill Shoemaker's 42-year career, and although it is safe to say that everyone will be rooting for a victory, one will have an extra reason for seeing the 58-year-old jockey go out a winner.
Joe Kaufenberg, who has already shipped 75,000 color posters to Santa Anita for the farewell, will go into the key chain business if Shoemaker wins with whatever horse he chooses to ride in the $100,000 Legend's Last Ride Handicap.
Kaufenberg, whose Las Vegas company has a contract with the Shoemaker family to market everything from sports jackets to lapel pins, says that if the Shoe wins, the post-finale key chain will include a brass plate with a copy of the race's winning ticket engraved on it. It will sell for $5, making it one of the cheapest items in a catalogue that has a top price of $69.95.
Kaufenberg, who does work for the National Football League and was involved in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's last hurrah last year, is also a member of a Huntington Beach family that says it is the world's largest supplier of blank T-shirts, so the Shoemaker account is only a small part of a large business. A business, by the way, that is involved in the selling of Bill Shoemaker, a year-long campaign that has disenchanted many race track executives across the country because of what they have seen as overblown commercialism.
Kaufenberg's firm--J. K. Sales--came in only at the tail end of the Shoemaker tour, which has included fancy dinners, golf tournaments, celebrity roasts, an auction, autograph sessions, a parade and appearances at more than 50 race tracks from Los Angeles to Australia.
Many of the events have supported racing auxiliaries--the race track chaplaincy program, the Don MacBeth Memorial Fund for needy former jockeys, and the Ryan Foundation for drug and alcohol rehabilitation--in addition to multiple sclerosis. But apart from the money raised for these legitimate causes, the Shoemaker farewell tour has not been embraced by every track that was invited to have him. Some of the major racing centers--Aqueduct and Belmont Park in New York, the Meadowlands in New Jersey, Arlington International near Chicago, Woodbine in Canada and Keeneland in Kentucky--said no to Shoemaker's sponsors.
Most often, the reason for rejecting them was the money that was being asked for a one-day visit by Shoemaker, who would ride in a few races, give interviews to the press and sign some autographs. The price for Shoemaker's appearance started at $75,000, but quickly dropped to $50,000 and eventually bottomed out at $10,000 or less at some tracks.
"For some tracks, it's probably a big event," said Ed Siegenfeld, the former vice president for marketing at the New York tracks. "But people in New York are a little more jaded. If (New York jockey) Angel Cordero did something like this, which I don't think he would, we wouldn't pay him, either."
The tour was orchestrated by Communications Services International, a British firm that sold Shoemaker on the idea. Despite a career in which he has earned more than $12 million--an estimated 10% of his horses' $123 million in purses--Shoemaker has seldom been financially flush. Two failed marriages have been expensive, as have several unsuccessful investments.
Shoemaker said that after his second divorce, in 1978, he was "not well off," and he told a recent biographer, Barney Nagler, that early in his third marriage his assets amounted to about $500,000.
"Money was part of the reason for the tour, but not the whole reason," Shoemaker said. "The idea of traveling to different tracks and meeting different people also appealed to me."
The rigors of travel, more than the horses that tested his surgical knees, would have been too much for even a younger man. At one point, early last summer, Shoemaker was on a European schedule that took him to 14 tracks in eight countries in four weeks.
At least twice, Shoemaker rode at two tracks in the same day, in Italy and Spain on the European swing and, once he had returned to the United States, at Monmouth Park and Atlantic City in New Jersey.
When he rode at Laurel in Maryland late last year, the track held a raffle after the races, with Shoemaker drawing the winning names. The weather was bitter cold, and after drawing a winning name, Shoemaker retreated to a small enclosure next to the winner's circle for protection from the wind. Then he reappeared to make the next drawing after each winner had identified himself.
But the fans loved him, and many of them hung around long after the last horse had run to get his autograph. Frank Tours, a former race track executive who lives in Las Vegas, is driving to Los Angeles for Saturday's race.
"I've known Shoe for a long time, and anybody who's known him has to love him," Tours said. "You get what you see, an uncomplicated guy who could just ride the hell out of horses. Being this close, there's no way I wouldn't be there."