Today is, of course, the Super Bowl, where the attention of a good part of the sporting world will be focused on Atlanta for the game between the Rams and Patriots.
However, not everyone is a fan of the NFL (Nike is doing its level best to help make sure of that) and there are sure to be other distractions on the day for people who aren’t football fans.
At the RedState Department of History, most of the staff enjoy, but are not addicted to, the gridiron game. There are other anniversaries to celebrate today and some of them even come from the world of sports, in particular the Sport of Kings.
That would be horse racing, and on this date in 1990 the legendary Bill Shoemaker rode the last race of his amazing 31-year career.
Shoemaker was born August 13, 1931 in Fabens, Texas. His birth weight was only 38 ounces (just over two pounds) and he was reportedly put in a shoe box and placed in his family’s oven on the first night of his life so he could stay warm enough to survive.
And survive he did, though he stood only 4’10 as an adult and weighed just 91 pounds.
That made him perfect for horse racing. He started to ride at age six, and eventually dropped out of high school to begin riding professionally in 1949. Soon he had earned a reputation as a great talent and a wonderful sportsman — and, of course, as a winning jockey.
He was making nearly $2,500 per week just a year into his career — so much money that he had an attorney appointed to be a personal guardian for one of the sport’s brightest young stars.
“The Shoe,” as he eventually came to be known, set what was at that time the all-time record for wins by a jockey. His first victory came on April 20, 1949 aboard a horse named Shafter V. His last victory came January 20, 1990 at Florida’s Gulfstream Park aboard Beau Genius.
In all, Shoemaker rode 8,833 winners, but today marks the anniversary of the jockey’s last race, aboard Patchy Groundfog — the last run of 40,350 in his incredible career.
His numbers are remarkable: ten-time top earning jockey, eleven Triple Crown race wins over four decades (though he never rode a Triple Crown winning horse), and distinction as the oldest jockey ever to win the Kentucky Derby (in 1986 at age 54, aboard Ferdinand.) The next year, he rode Ferdinand to a victory in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, though he labeled Forego as the best horse he ever rode.
Just one year after his career ended, Shoemaker was made a quadriplegic when he was involved in a drunk-driving accident and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. But that didn’t stop Shoemaker from either continuing to work in the horse industry or trying something new.
Shoemaker trained horses for awhile but also wrote three murder mysteries in the style similar to fellow jockey and author Dick Francis. Stalking Horse, Fire Horse and Dark Horse cemented Shoemaker’s well-rounded reputation.
He’s one of the all-time greats and on a day where we celebrate sporting greatness, it certainly seems right to honor him. Happy Sunday, enjoy the game if you’re watching and have an open thread!