10/13/2003 12:00AM

Remembering a pillar of the sport


No one in racing was respected more than Bill Shoemaker, who died Sunday at age 72. When asked to reflect on Shoemaker's life and career, those who worked with him and rode against him remember a gracious, mischievous, humble man who became the greatest jockey in history.

Braulio Baeza
Hall of Fame jockey

I don't think I ever once saw him get angry or curse anybody. We finished in a dead heat in the [1962] Wood Memorial and they took his number down. We were head and head all the way around the track and his horse bumped mine. He apologized to me.

Russell Baze
Hall of Fame Jockey

The thing I remember most is his sense of humor. He was always playing practical jokes in the jocks' room. They weren't cruel at all. They were funny.

Bill Boland
Youngest jockey to win Kentucky Derby

He was a great guy to ride with. I remember I was riding the [1959] Santa Anita Derby, and I was riding a sprinter named Ole Fols and he was riding one of the choices [Royal Orbit] in the race. They wanted me to try take my horse back so he could get the mile and an eighth. My horse started taking off and was running up on heels, and Shoe got off the rail and said come on through here. It might have cost him the race. [Royal Orbit finished second.] But he was that kind of guy. If you were in trouble and it wasn't your fault he'd help you out. But if you were in a spot you didn't belong, you were on your own.

Julio Canani
Trainer, gave Shoemaker his final mount in 1990

There's never going to be another like him. There was one time, when I had only four or five horses - and I was selling carrots, too - he was supposed to ride a horse for me in the ninth race. He didn't have a mount after the fourth race. It was pouring rain. Any other jockey would have taken off. But he stayed around and rode for me, and the horse won. He never treated me differently from how he would treat Charlie Whittingham. What a nice man. What a great rider.

Angel Cordero Jr.
Hall of Fame jockey

He had the greatest timing I ever saw of any jockey. This guy was always in the right place at the right time. With the little hands that he had it was amazing to me he could control a horse to do what he wanted. He could put a horse anywhere he wanted, anytime he wanted, and that's what probably made him so great.

I remember in the Santa Anita Handicap when he was riding Ferdinand and I was riding Broad Brush. We were head and head coming into the stretch and I remember thinking, I'm riding with the greatest rider in the world. I said I hope I get lucky. We get to the wire and I raise my stick like I won it. He said to me, "You think you won it?" He put the panic in me. They put my number up and I said I'm never going to do that again.

Marje Everett
Former chairwoman, Hollywood Park

He was the best. To me, he exemplified the perfect person. You never heard anything but the best of him. He was brave through this horrible situation. He never complained. I'm heartbroken. I don't know think we'll know anyone finer.

Dr. Alex Harthill

I'm so broke up, it's hard for me to talk about him. I tried to get him to come stay with me for a while here recently, but the doctor wouldn't let him because he didn't think Shoe's lungs could take it. He was a good, good friend. I never knew a better or more honest guy.

Allen Jerkens
Hall of Fame trainer

There was no doubt about his ability, and everybody liked him, and he was a great practical joker too. Sometimes you'd go to give him a leg up and he wouldn't even jump. You'd say, "What the hell are you doing?" He said, "I was out late last night." What he loved to do is to get an ice cream cone and go by the jockeys in the sweat box and be licking his ice cream cone. One day he was riding in the car with Bill Boland and Boland was driving and they were making a turn in downtown [New York] and he shut the motor off of the car.

One of the things I thought made him so great was he was a great winner and he was a great loser, too. He'd come here all the way from California, and if the horse didn't run any good he had the same temperament. He took things in stride so well. He was such a well-adjusted person and cool as a cucumber.

Julie Krone
Hall of Fame jockey

I rode against him in a match race at Canterbury. We were coming down the stretch and bumped him out. At the end, I won by a head. The horses were really evenly matched.

He didn't claim foul. Someone said, "Why didn't you claim foul." He said, "She just outrode me." He said it with that Shoemaker grin.

It was so much fun spending those two days up there with him. The crowd really warmed to him.

When I knew I wanted to be a jockey, my mom and I read all these books about jockeys. She said, "You're built like Shoe, you should model yourself after him."

I had his book. When I met him, I had him sign the book and I acted all silly.

I came to Santa Anita for his last race - I think I was off with a broken arm - and it was so special to be here that day. The crowd was enormous and the stands were vibrating with everyone cheering.

Richard Mandella
Hall of Fame trainer

He won on the first horse I started, La Mesa at Hollywood Park.

I remember I had a horse that hated to change to his right lead. Other riders would come back moaning, "He doesn't change leads." Shoe rode him and won and he didn't change leads. He came back and said, "He doesn't like that lead." He just left him alone.

Ron McAnally
Hall of Fame trainer

He was one of the best I've ever seen. I was here in 1948. I was working as a groom. I was mucking out stalls. I looked across the way and there was little guy working over at the next barn and he was mucking out the stalls.

I said, "What's that little guy doing? He should be trying to ride horses."

I went into the service. When I got out, all the headlines I saw were Shoemaker this, Shoemaker that. I thought, Who is this guy? I went to the paddock at Santa Anita to see who this Shoemaker was and it was that little guy.

What a rider he was and he did it effortlessly. He did it all with his hands.

I remember the first time that he worked John Henry at Hollywood Park before he rode him. I wanted him to get familiar with him. He worked good and I went back to the barn to wait for Shoe. I said, "Well, what do you think?" He said, "He's a pro." That really made me feel good.

Chris McCarron
Hall of Fame jockey

He will be remembered most for his race record, but what I'd like to see people remember him for was his great character and compassion. It was an honor to call him your friend.

When I was in Maryland, they had a great [jockeys'] room. The guys were always trying to liven things up.

When Shoemaker came to Maryland he appeared very stoic. He walked around very upright and very proud. When I came out here I didn't know what to expect.

He showed jockeys that despite the fact you live in a high-pressure situation and work in that environment, that every moment doesn't have to be high pressure. You could have fun.

Shoe was a very close friend. There are two races that stand out with him and I'll have to live with it for the rest of my life because I was second. The first was 1986 Kentucky Derby when he won with Ferdinand. The second came with my Kentucky Derby winner [Alysheba] the following year. He beat me by a nose with Ferdinand in the Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park. That was a defeat that took a year for me to get over, but I shouldn't have. I got beat by the best.

Charles McCaul
Assistant clerk of scales, Santa Anita

On my first day as stewards' aide in 1985, Shoe put shaving cream on top of my baseball cap. I didn't feel it until I went out to the winner's circle. You couldn't get mad. That was my initiation. It was great fun.

Don Pierce
Retired jockey

He was a fine man. He was my best friend. We were like brothers, for 45 years. We did a lot together. There was one time in New York, our families at the time were back there. After the races at Aqueduct, we went into the city to have dinner. We got back about three in the morning. I got home and my wife said, "Where have you been?" I told her I had had dinner and drinks with Shoe. She said, "I just called him, and he said he hadn't seen you all night." Needless to say, that was my first wife.

Laffit Pincay Jr.
Hall of Fame jockey

This is a very sad time for me. We were good friends for many many years. He was my idol when I came to this country, and he was always a Class A guy. I know he wasn't happy in that wheelchair, but he never complained.

Tim Smith
Commissioner, National Thoroughbred Racing Association

Bill Shoemaker, pound for pound, was one of the best athletes of the 20th century, with rare combination of poise, grace, and courage. He was an ambassador for our game, and the entire sport will miss him.

Gary Stevens
Hall of Fame jockey

He will be remembered for his riding record, but I'll remember him more as a friend than a jockey. He helped me with a lot of things off the track. He was a close friend. He was suffering with health problems. In a way, it's a relief. At the same time, it's hard to accept.

Interviews by Steve Andersen, Chuck Dybdal, David Grening, Marty McGee, and Jay Privman.