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William Lee Shoemaker, (August 19, 1931 - October 12, 2003) was an American jockey.
Referred to as both "Bill" and "Willie," as well as "The Shoe", Shoemaker was born in the town of Fabens, Texas. At 2 pounds, Shoemaker was so small at birth that he wasn't expected to live more than a few hours. Kept in a shoebox near a fire to stay warm, he survived, but remained small, growing to be 4-foot-11 and weighing only 95 pounds. His smallness proved a benefit, because he went on to become a giant in thoroughbred horse racing.
His career as a jockey began in his teen years, with his first professional ride on March 19, 1949. The first of his eventual 8,833 career victories came a month later - on April 20 - on a racer named Shafter V.
The breakdown of wins is as follows:
- Kentucky Derby – Swaps (1955), Tomy Lee (1959), Lucky Debonair (1965) and Ferdinand (1986)
- Preakness Stakes – Candy Spots (1963) and Damascus (1967)
- Belmont Stakes – Gallant Man (1957), Sword Dancer (1959), Jaipur (1962), Damascus (1967) and Avatar (1975)
When Shoemaker earned his 6,033rd victory in September 1970, he broke the record of jockey Johnny Longden. In 1999, Shoemaker's own record of 8,833 career victories was broken by Panamanian-born Laffit Pincay Jr
Win #8,833, Shoemaker's last, came at Gulfstream Park, Florida on January 20, 1990 aboard Beau Genius. Two weeks later, on February 3, Shoemaker rode in his very last race as a jockey, at the Santa Anita racetrack. He finished 4th, aboard a horse by the name of Patchy Groundfog. All told, Bill Shoemaker rode in a record 40,350 races.
Soon after retiring as a jockey, Shoemaker returned to the track as a trainer, where he had modest success. A car accident on April 8, 1991 left him paralyzed from the neck down and wheelchair-bound, but he continued to train racehorses until his retirement in 1997.