Derby Museum showcases jockey great Bill Shoemaker

Just a short stroll from the famous track at Churchill Downs,

where he rode to four victories in the Kentucky Derby, some of Bill

Shoemaker’s most treasured items are on display for racing fans

making a pilgrimage to the famous racetrack.

The special exhibit – titled “Shoemaker: Start to Finish” –

opened Monday at the Kentucky Derby Museum and carries visitors

down memory lane, spanning the 40-plus-year career of a pint-sized

man who became a giant in thoroughbred racing history.

Visitors stroll past glass cases filled with trophies,

scrapbooks and riding gear worn by the late Shoemaker, who rode in

more than 40,000 races and won 8,833 of them in a Hall of Fame

career. Photos ringing the exhibit chronicle his achievements.

One photo shows an exuberant Shoemaker after he won the 1986

Derby aboard Ferdinand. The triumph made Shoemaker the oldest

jockey, at age 54, to win the Run for the Roses. The garland of

roses is draped around his shoulders, his right fist pumped in

triumph.

The Derby Museum, situated just off Gate 1 at Churchill,

received the nearly 550-piece collection from Shoemaker’s daughter,

Amanda Teal. It’s the first time most of the pieces have been put

on public display.

The exhibit comes as Derby fever nears a crescendo in this

charming city by the Ohio River, which spends three weeks

celebrating a two-minute horse race, and where race horses, and

their jockeys, are seen as prime athletes. This year’s Derby is May

7.

“I am beyond excited to see it all come together,” Teal said in

emailed comments. “He was an extraordinary father, athlete and

person. I’m grateful to have his legacy celebrated and preserved

for all racing fans.”

Shoemaker died in 2003 at the age of 72. He had been paralyzed

from the neck down since a car crash in 1991.

The exhibit has three themes – Shoemaker’s family life, racing

career and celebrity status. Shoemaker gained prominence in the

1950s and 1960s, when thoroughbred racing was a leading spectator

sport. As a result, he was in demand by advertisers.

One glass case showcases a dapper white suit similar to the one

he wore in an American Express ad featuring Shoemaker and Wilt

Chamberlain. At 4-foot-11, Shoemaker barely reached the waist of

the basketball great.

Shoemaker’s stature as a pitchman showed that his broad appeal

extended beyond racetracks, a point Derby Museum curator Chris

Goodlett hopes to convey in the exhibit.

”I hope people really get a sense of how important he was by

also seeing that celebrity,” he said.

Another objective, he said, is to offer some insights into the

physical demands of being a jockey – “how amazing they are

athletically as small persons controlling a large animal.”

Shoemaker was at the top of his trade for decades. He had 26

mounts in the Kentucky Derby, and won the first leg of the Triple

Crown in 1955, 1959, 1965 and finally in 1986, which his daughter

said was a special achievement.

“I think the fact that he was able to win it in the twilight of

his career, and share the victory with his longtime friend (and

trainer) Charlie Whittingham, made it particularly special,” Teal

said.

Teal remembers watching the 1986 race as a 6-year-old in her

living room, jumping up and down and screaming. She still remembers

the race in detail as her father navigated a ride considered one of

the greatest ever.

“When he anticipated that hole opening, dropped in toward the

rail and took the lead down the stretch, (it) was one of the most

exciting moments of my life,” she said.

The exhibit includes video footage from each of his Derby wins.

It also shows one of his most agonizing losses.

Visitors can see video of the 1957 Derby, when Shoemaker

misjudged the finish line and stood up at the 16th pole while

aboard Gallant Man. He sat back down immediately but Iron Liege won

by a nose.

Shoemaker rode much of his career on Southern California’s

competitive circuit. He was the first jockey to reach $100 million

in career earnings. After retiring as a jockey, he worked as a

trainer from 1990-97.

The exhibit, which runs through this Dec. 31, is on the second

floor of the museum, where every day seems like Derby Day. Visitors

relive past races through videos and memorabilia that also capture

the pageantry. The museum also arranges for guided walking tours of

Churchill Downs.

Teal, who lives in San Francisco, plans to visit the museum with

her husband. She’ll see scrapbooks chronicling some of her father’s

big victories. Other pages show a more personal side. There’s a

party invitation signed by friends after his 1986 Derby triumph.

Another scrapbook page features a button from Teal that says: “My

Heart Belongs to Daddy.”

Goodlett said the scrapbooks are meant to give people a glimpse

into what Shoemaker was like ”as a man, not just as an

athlete.”

If You Go …

KENTUCKY DERBY MUSEUM: 704 Central Ave., Louisville, Ky.;

http://www.derbymuseum.org or 502-637-7097. Adults, $13; age 55 and

over, $12; age 13-18, $11; age 5-12, $5; under 5, free. March

15-Nov. 30, open Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m.-5

p.m. Open at 8 a.m. Sunday after Derby. Dec. 1-March 14, open

Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

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