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Emotional Farewell to Shoemaker

A crowd of about 700 attends a memorial service, where the legendary jockey is remembered for his genius and friendship.

October 22, 2003|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

A crowd of about 700 said goodbye to Bill Shoemaker on Tuesday at Santa Anita, the scene of many of his greatest triumphs.

During a 40-minute memorial service in the winner's circle, Shoemaker, who died in his sleep at 72 on Oct. 12, was remembered in a eulogy by Father Jack Foley and in tributes by fellow jockeys and friends.

After a call to the post by bugler Jay Cohen, who works at both Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, and a welcome by Mike Willman, an inter-track and radio show host, Foley eulogized Shoemaker as "a great athlete, great example, great father and wonderful person."

Foley was followed by Eddie Delahoussaye, a former rider and one of Shoemaker's closest friends.

"I loved him, and he'll be in our hearts forever," said Delahoussaye, a Hall of Famer who retired earlier this year. "Things will never be the same without him, but we'll have him in here," he said, patting his heart.

John Gosden, a successful trainer in this country before he returned to his native England about 15 years ago, teamed with Shoemaker to win many races in the 1980s.

"He truly was great and a genius, a man of enormous integrity and class," Gosden said. "He was a colossus, his reputation international, and it seems like only yesterday we saw him walk into this very winner's circle."

Another close friend, Don Pierce, had to compose himself, with the help of Willman and Chris McCarron, before he spoke briefly.

"The first time I met Shoe was 40 years ago," he said. "The first thing he did was burn me with a hot spoon.

"I asked [former jockey] Ralph Neves to introduce me to him, and that's what he did. We had so many great times. I'm going to miss him. I'm sorry he had to go."

Laffit Pincay, the man who surpassed Shoemaker as the sport's winningest rider in 1999, Gary Stevens and McCarron followed Pierce to the podium.

"It's very nice all of you are here to pay respect to the greatest rider of all time," Pincay said. "I feel very proud I can say I rode with Shoe for many years, and I'm proud to say he was a great friend.

"He's sitting up there right now, laughing at all of us, sitting in the hot sun, sweating. He's having a drink with Charlie [Whittingham, the legendary trainer who died in 1999]."

Stevens thanked Amanda, Shoemaker's daughter, for being her father's inspiration.

"It was because of you he gave us 12 more years," Stevens said, alluding to the 1991 single-car accident that left Shoemaker a quadriplegic. "He helped me through a lot of problems off the track that I'll never be able to repay. I appreciated the opportunity to have been his friend and honored to have known the great Bill Shoemaker."

McCarron recalled having met Shoemaker at Pimlico in the mid-1970s.

"I was amazed about how a little guy walked around the jockeys' room with such presence," he said. "That little guy forced people to respect jockeys, the way he performed on and off the track.

"Whenever I traveled somewhere and people saw my tack, they would ask me if I knew Bill Shoemaker, and I was so proud to say that, yes, I knew him."


Earlier in the day, it was announced that the outstanding jockey on the Breeders' Cup program Saturday will be given the Shoemaker Award.

The winning rider will be selected by the media covering the event and will receive a trophy at the media brunch on Sunday.

"It's only fitting that we honor Bill Shoemaker in this way," Breeders' Cup President D.G. Van Clief said. "He's arguably the greatest name in the history of our sport."

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