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BILL SHOEMAKER * 1931-2003

Peers Remember Shoemaker

Fellow hall of famers Pincay, McCarron and others call him a true friend, a classy man and a natural jockey.

October 13, 2003|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

Laffit Pincay Jr. was going to call Bill Shoemaker on Sunday to ask his friend of nearly 40 years if he wanted to come to his Arcadia home to watch the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 25.

Pincay -- who passed Shoemaker with victory No. 8,834 in 1999 to become the world's winningest jockey -- had planned to call Saturday night, but had gone out. When he arrived home, he decided that it was too late to disturb Shoemaker.

Pincay never got the chance to talk to his former rival. Shoemaker, 72, passed away in his sleep Sunday morning.

"It's a very sad moment," Pincay said. "We've been good friends for so long, and we had a lot of great times together. He was a guy I admired a lot in everything he did throughout his life.

"He was a guy who never lost his temper, always took things in stride, and he was always the same whether he won or lost. He was extremely classy. After his accident, he never complained. He was always very positive."

Pincay also remembered how gracious his friend was when he passed Shoemaker's record for wins on Dec. 10, 1999, riding winner No. 8,834 on Irish Nip at Hollywood Park, and when he reached other milestones before an injury forced his retirement this spring.

"He always told me that if somebody was going to break his records, he was glad it was me," he said. "He told me I deserved it."

Fellow hall of famer Eddie Delahoussaye, who retired in January because of an injury suffered more than a year ago at Del Mar, also was close to the man he competed against for many years.

"He was a very good friend who suffered a lot the last 12 years, but he never complained," Delahoussaye said. "You never know what is going to happen to you in life, but Bill took it the way it came. He was one of the toughest guys you'll ever meet.

"If he was your friend, he was your friend. He was true. He was always straightforward, there was no bull with him, and that's why I liked him.

"I would have to say he was the best rider I ever saw, and I think a lot of people would say that. He had the timing, the ability to judge the pace, and he had the touch with those animals. He was just a natural."

Chris McCarron, who concluded his brilliant career in June 2002 and is now the general manager of Santa Anita, rode against Shoemaker for more than a decade locally and remained close after Shoemaker's retirement in February 1990.

"He was one of the greatest human beings I've ever had the pleasure of knowing," said McCarron, another hall of famer. "Forget about his ability to communicate with horses, his compassion for people was second to none.

"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 a further testimony to his character and his fortitude. It's just an incredible loss."

McCarron joined members of the current jockey colony at Santa Anita in the winner's circle after Sunday's second race to honor Shoemaker with a moment of silence. A moving video tribute followed on the big screen in the track's infield showing various snapshots of Shoemaker's life and race footage featuring some of the best horses he rode.

Ray York, who broke into the game at the same time as Shoemaker in 1949, didn't know his friend and former golf buddy had died when contacted by a reporter.

"Oh, no, no," he said. "I can't believe it. We did so many things together. He was a great, great guy and a great sport.

"I was introduced to him in 1949 and we were friends from then on. I rented an apartment from him when I was riding at Santa Anita, and I remember when I won the Kentucky Derby in 1954 [aboard Determine] how he and Eddie Arcaro were so classy when they congratulated me."

Angel Cordero Jr., a hall of famer who spent some time riding regularly in California and who now works as the agent for New York-based jockey John Velazquez, cited the influence Shoemaker and Arcaro had on riders.

"They rode a long time ago when nobody knew how to ride," Cordero told Associated Press. "They developed their own style, and we all learned from them."

Best known for his skill on the turf, Fernando Toro, who lives in Del Mar, hadn't seen Shoemaker in about two years, he said, but that didn't detract from their friendship.

"He was my idol," said the Chilean-born Toro, a fixture in the local riding colony for more than 20 years after arriving in 1970. "He was not only a great jockey, but a great person.

"He was always one of the group, he never thought he was better than anybody else, and he treated everybody the same way and always had something nice to say to everybody.

"He called me 'Bull' and I called him 'Senor Shoe.' When he wasn't in the jockey's room for whatever reason, the place was not the same.

"In my opinion, he's the greatest rider of all time. It was all in his hands. He was patient, he had great balance on a horse, and he never overused the whip. It's a sad, sad day for us."

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THROUGH THE YEARS

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