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Willie Shoemaker - Struggle With Fame

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Because he most often rode on the west coast, Shoemaker soon became a celebrity in southern California. With his ten percent cut of purse money, he was a wealthy man and his second wife Babs Bayer thoroughly enjoyed the lifestyle it afforded them. In the mid-1960s the Shoemakers moved into a Beverly Hills high-rise apartment and were attending glamorous parties. Babs dressed in expensive furs and jewelry, she did charity work, and their names appeared in society columns. Quietly unhappy with these changes, Shoemaker would later say what he thought of his Hollywood acquaintances in Sports Illustrated: "I never really wanted to know them. I went to their houses and I couldn't remember them now if I tried because I want to put it out of my mind." He also reflected, "An athlete's supposed to be doing a job the next day, and those people don't have anything to do. They can sleep all day. It affected my riding. It affected my attitude about it a lot."

The jockey found himself fighting boredom and personal problems at the height of his career. In 1967 he helped make Damascus the horse of the year and his mounts earned more than $3 million for the first time, but the jockey suffered two serious injuries. In January of 1968 he broke his femur when a horse fell and kicked him, resulting in thirteen months of recovery. In April of the next year, a horse threw and crushed him against a paddock hedge. His pelvis was broken in several places, his bladder was torn, and nerves in his leg were damaged. After he again returned to racing, Shoemaker reached one of the greatest hallmarks of his career: in 1970 he passed Johnny Longden's record of most career wins with 6,033 victories. It had taken Longden forty years to set a record that was overturned by Shoemaker in just twenty-two years. Nevertheless, Shoemaker's performance in the saddle was diminished. By 1973 his winning percentage had dropped to seventeen percent from an average of twenty-four percent and he was increasingly absent on the job.

Shoemaker's comeback began with his getting into shape physically, but was most closely linked to a resolution in conflict at home. In February 1977 Babs filed for divorce, citing "irreconcilable differences." That summer Shoemaker became engaged to Cindy Barnes and married her in March of 1978, just a day after his divorce was official. Barnes was then twenty-seven years old and shared her husband's interests in sports and horses. Approximately two years later the couple had a daughter, Amanda.

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