Best All Time Jockey

When you think of winning horse racing jockeys, it’s a sure thing that Willie Shoemaker’s name rises to the top. His extensive and long-lived career is a thing of legend. Shoemaker’s life took him from being a premature baby in Texas to the top jockey in horse racing history when he retired at age 54.

Shoemaker never won the Triple Crown of racing but did ride four horses to victory in the Kentucky Derby. The prize money he won during his career was record-breaking. In fact, he was the first jockey to win over $100 million.

Born prematurely in 1931, Shoemaker only grew to 4-foot-11 and 95 pounds. He used his size as an asset and became a top jockey in horse racing history. Shoemaker had a light touch with his horses. He knew how to stay out of their way and let them work. He won 8,333 races during his long career. And, it was a long career. Not many athletes can say they were successful for as long as Willie Shoemaker.

Stamina was not a foreign concept to Shoemaker. There were times that he would ride twelve races in a day, and win most of them. Despite two career-ending-type injuries, he persevered and continued to ride, and continued to win. At an age when most jockeys had stopped riding, he continued to be successful. One mistake that marred his career was when he mistook a pole for the finish line and let up on his horse allowing another rider to win the Kentucky Derby. But, even that terrible mistake, didn't stop the tough Shoemaker from coming back and winning again.

NY Long Island Belmont Park Bill Shoemaker.
NY Long Island Belmont Park Bill Shoemaker. Thanks to wallyg on for the picture.

Willy Shoemaker spent several years training racehorses after retiring from riding. Even his retirement was an event. A world tour was organized and he drew crowds around the world. In 1991, he was in an auto accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Even this event couldn’t keep him from the horses. Shoemaker supervised trainers from his wheelchair. During the years after he became an advocate for the disabled. He died in 2003.

The legend of his winning ways lives on wherever race fans gather to talk about the greats. They talk about “Shoe” and the way he was able to get the most out of a horse without appearing to extract it. Though small of stature, Willy Shoemaker had what every great champion, in every sport has – a huge heart and mental and physical toughness. In the end, those traits are what made him the best all time jockey.

Swaps with Willie Shoemaker up.
Swaps with Willie Shoemaker up- The 1955 Kentucky Derby winner. Horse of the year in 1956. Thanks to ibison4 on for the picture.

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