Willie Shoemaker - Return To Form
Return to Form
On the racetrack, Shoemaker entered a new era. In 1979 he won the Marlboro Cup on Spectacular Bid, whom he would describe as the greatest horse he had ever ridden. In a 1980 Sports Illustrated article he explained, "He does everything like a great horse should do it. He won on every kind of track you can imagine. Carried his weight and won. He's so versatile you can move any time you want and then move again if you have to." One of the greatest events of Shoemaker's later career was his 1986 Kentucky Derby victory on Ferdinand. The rider was 54 years old and was himself amazed that he was still racing. The victory was made even sweeter because it was shared with trainer Charles Wittingham, with whom Shoemaker had collaborated in more than 200 stakes wins.
In time, however, Wittingham had to tell Shoemaker that his owners were asking for a younger rider. Having decided to retire in 1990, the jockey agreed to do an unusual, year-long world tour arranged by New Zealander Michael Watt. From the Royal Ascot in England, to Australia, to tiny venues in the American outback, Shoemaker would say good-bye to his fans across the world. According to Sports Illustrated writer Clive Gammon, most people in American thoroughbred racing looked down on the spectacle. But Gammon countered, "On the whole, though, it is perhaps more unsettling to consider how the exit of Shoemaker might have gone, indeed, how it might have been shamefully overlooked, if it had been left to his countrymen." The writer speculated that the jockey's international fame was second only to Muhammad Ali among American athletes. Shoemaker left the job of jockey having taken home about $10 million and holding a twenty-two percent winning record. He immediately turned to training horses, a role that he had begun preparing for at Wittingham's training facility.