Publish date:
Updated on

Shoemaker becomes oldest man to win Kentucky Derby

On May 3, 1986, 54-year-old Willie Shoemaker, aboard 18/1 shot Ferdinand, becomes the oldest jockey ever to win the Kentucky Derby. The victory was just one of Shoemaker’s 8,833 wins, a record that stood until 1999, when it was broken by Laffit Pincay.

William Lee Shoemaker was born prematurely on August 19, 1931, in the West Texas town of Fabens. He weighed just two pounds at birth, and doctors predicted he would not survive the night. Even as a full-grown man, “Shoe” was just 4 feet 11 inches tall and 98 pounds.

When he was 10, Shoemaker moved with his father to Los Angeles, where he won a Golden Gloves boxing championship in the 95-105 pound class. Seven years later, on March 19, 1949, he first rode a horse professionally; he was 17. Shoemaker won his first professional race a month later, and soon became known for his patience and great hands. He rarely used his whip and instead relied mostly on the bit and the harness. In 1953, Shoe set a record for most wins in one year with 485. His record in Triple Crown races was similarly outstanding: He won a total of four Kentucky Derbys, two Preakness Stakes and five Belmont Stakes. He placed or showed (second and third place, respectively) in another 14 Triple Crown races over the course of his career

Shoemaker’s most famous run, however, was one he did not win. In the 1957 Kentucky Derby, he mistook the 1-16 mile marker for the finish line and stood up in celebration. He and his horse, Gallant Man, ended up losing the race by a nose. Shoe responded with characteristic calm, explaining to fans and reporters that the course had been changed and that he’d been confused by the lack of a finish marker.

After recovering from a broken leg that forced him to miss a year of racing, Shoe broke the career record for wins on September 7, 1970, passing Johnny Longden with his 6,033rd victory. Shoe’s last win, on horse Beau Genius, came nearly 20 years later on January 20, 1990, at Gulfstream Park in Florida. It was his 8,833rd win in 40,350 races. He collected nearly $123 million in purses in his 40-year career.

In 1991, the year after Shoemaker retired from racing, a single car drunk-driving accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. Though he was unable to walk, he retained his sense for horses and returned to training them from his wheelchair.

Shoemaker died in his sleep on October 12, 2003, at his home in San Marino, California.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Japanese war crimes trial begins

In Tokyo, Japan, the International Military Tribunals for the Far East begins hearing the case against 28 Japanese military and government officials accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during World War II. On November 4, 1948, the trial ended with 25 of more

New Japanese constitution goes into effect

On May 3, 1947, Japan’s postwar constitution goes into effect. The progressive constitution granted universal suffrage, stripped Emperor Hirohito of all but symbolic power, stipulated a bill of rights, abolished peerage, and outlawed Japan’s right to make war. The document was more

Paris is chosen as site for peace talks

After 34 days of discussions to select a site, the United States and North Vietnam agree to begin formal negotiations in Paris on May 10, or shortly thereafter. Hanoi disclosed that ex-Foreign Minister Xuan Thuy would head the North Vietnamese delegation at the talks. Ambassador more

Cowboy author Andy Adams is born

Andy Adams, one of the most accurate chroniclers of the authentic “Old West,” is born in Columbia City, Indiana. While still in his teens, Adams ran away from home. He eventually made his way to Texas, where he found work as a cowboy. From 1882 to 1893, Adams witnessed more

Exxon executive is murdered

Exxon executive Sidney Reso dies in a storage vault in New Jersey. Four days earlier, he was abducted from the driveway of his Morris Township, New Jersey, home. Reso was shot in the arm, bound and gagged, and then placed in a wooden box that was hidden in a virtually airless more

Congressional hearings on General MacArthur

The Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, meeting in closed session, begin their hearings into the dismissal of Gen. Douglas MacArthur by President Harry S. Truman. The hearings served as a sounding board for MacArthur and his extremist views on how the Cold War more

MADD founder’s daughter killed by drunk driver

On this day in 1980, 13-year-old Cari Lightner of Fair Oaks, California, is walking along a quiet road on her way to a church carnival when a car swerves out of control, striking and killing her. Cari’s tragic death compelled her mother, Candy Lightner, to found the organization more