1990: Bill Shoemaker's Last Race


The phrase, "the end of an era," has been used countless times in history. It was a saying that rang true for the sport of Thoroughbred racing on February 3, 1990.

On that winter afternoon, Bill Shoemaker, one of the true giants of the turf and the man who is arguably the great jockey of all time, retired after more than forty years in the saddle.

The site was Santa Anita, the track where he dominated for so many years. At one point, Shoemaker won an unprecdented seventeen consecutive riding titles at the Arcadia venue (which to this day has not been equaled). It only seemed fitting that the rider who began his career in California back in 1949 would close it at the state where he achieved so much success.

As expected, Shoemaker's last race brought an enormous level of attention. His final career start was dubbed "The Legend's Last Ride," and that made the cover of the day's Santa Anita program as well as a national television broadcast. The man who thousands had grown up watching was getting a grand salute as he prepared to hang up his tack. It only demonstrated what Shoemaker meant to racing and to the people in it. A true gentleman rider, he had long earned the respect from his peers and fans for his riding and his character. That respect was shown in spades on the day of his final start.

The obvious question going into the race was whether Shoemaker would go out a winner. His most recent victory came at Gulfstream Park about two weeks earlier (interestingly, it could be said he went full circle a few days before then, for he won another race at Bay Meadows). The fact his career was about to finish was already one of the biggest moments in racing history. If he was able to get to the winner's circle one more time, it would be one of the true fairytale endings in sports.

"The Legend's Last Ride" was the fifth race of the program, but first, Shoemaker delivered an emotional speech in the winner's circle, his fellow jockeys standing behind him. Applause followed him there, just as it had when he was given a boost on his horse in the walking ring. Patchy Groundfog had the distinction of being the final mount of Shoemaker's iconic career, and was made the post-time favorite. Shoemaker was of course the sentimental favorite, and everyone hoped for one more win.