SI Vault
 
'WHAT A FINE LITTLE MAN'
William Leggett
April 16, 1962
Eddie Arcaro, the world's premier jockey and one of Thoroughbred racing's most colorful personalities for three decades, has called it quits at the age of 46
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 16, 1962

'what A Fine Little Man'

Eddie Arcaro, the world's premier jockey and one of Thoroughbred racing's most colorful personalities for three decades, has called it quits at the age of 46

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Am I proud of him?" asked Pasquale Arcaro, the father of the jockey. "Prouder than anyone will ever know. I'm 70 now, and the doctors didn't want me to come to his retirement party. But I had to come to hear him say himself that he was through. He's got money and a fine family and a great name. Do you remember the day when he fell from Black Hills in the Belmont Stakes? It was June 13, 1959, and when I saw him go down I thought he was dead and I had a heart attack right in the stands. But I remember May 7, 1938, too. The day he won his first Derby—with Lawrin. My wife hardly ever touched a drop, but that night we went out and tied one on."

'How do I feel?" asked Ruth Arcaro, the wife of the jockey. "I can't recall being this happy in oh so long. These last few years I've been terribly afraid for him and so have the children, Carolyn and Bobby. Some Saturdays I'd get up just enough nerve to put on the television set to watch him ride, but then I couldn't. I'd look the other way and hope that nothing went wrong."

"After 31 years," said Joe E. Lewis, the horseplayers' comedian, "the little champ has retired. Do you know that if that bum retired 31 years ago I'd be a billionaire today?"

"For the last three years," said Eddie Arcaro, the Master, the millionaire, the most famous man to ride a horse in America since Paul Revere, "I wasn't what everyone said I was—the premier jockey. There were days when the bursitis got so bad that I couldn't lift my right arm. But I kept it a secret, and I fooled many a guy when the finishes got close. Once I thought I was the best and that there was no one close to me. But recently I didn't want to ride. I'd say to my agent [Bones LaBoyne] 'Bones, get me on just enough horses so that I can ride between 2 and 3 in the afternoon." Arcaro laughed and LaBoyne, listening, covered his eyes with his right hand. "Maybe," Arcaro continued, "if George Widener decided to run Jaipur in the Derby I would have stayed around. But I thought it all over, and decided it was time. Once I take this dive [retiring] there is no coming back. When everyone considers it they would have to think of me as being among the top five."

If Arcaro meant only among the top five jockeys then he was underestimating his own skills. Baron Fred d'Osten, an internationally known racing authority, once said, "Since 1920 I have seen all the top jockeys ride in countries throughout the world, men such as Steve Donoghue, Sir Gordon Richards, Charley Elliot, Earl Sande, Roger Poincelet, Rae Johnstone and many others. Arcaro is far superior to any of them." To ask America's horseplayers which five Arcaro belongs to would be folly. To horseplayers he ranks with Edison, Washington, Lincoln and Churchill. In truth, however, as an athlete Eddie Arcaro ranks with Dempsey, with Ruth, with Jones, with Tilden. As a jockey no one may be considered close to him, and although purses have increased and will continue to increase no rider will ever threaten him as the top stakes jockey of all time. His record of 4,779 winners will pass, and so will his money-earning record of $30,039,543. But the record of 549 stakes won may stand forever. Arcaro also won 17 Triple Crown races and no active jockey has won more than four.

Once Eddie Arcaro said, "I really believe I have my best judgment when the money is hanging up there," and owners and trainers sought that judgment for every major stakes race run in this country since the early '40s. Since 1941 he had the mounts on ten Horses of the Year while no one else ever handled more than two. "I believe that he became aware of his greatness," says Arcaro's good friend and onetime riding enemy, Sam Renick, "after he won that Derby with Lawrin. He was good before it, but after it he became great. He had confidence like no one I've ever seen on a racetrack."

Says Arcaro: "There were plenty of times when I was afraid. Every day something would come up that would give me a scare. But I figure that when I signed my name to be a jockey that death might be a part of it. Every jockey should know that or get out. Jockeys know what hard competition is, and in racing if you want to make it real big you can't be afraid of dyin'! That day I fell from Black Hills didn't bother me. You couldn't have put a gun into my back then and made me stop riding. I didn't think the injury was that serious.

"I've been thrown or fallen off horses when I was bettin' my own money. One day at Tropical Park I was riding a horse for John Gaver [currently the trainer for Greentree Stable], and I bet $10,000 on him. I thought he was that sure a thing. When we came into the stretch I started to ease up on him he was so far in front. I figured if he won by too much that the handicappers would sock weight to him. As I started to ease up on him he went to the outside fence and jumped right over it. There I was, sittin' on my butt, out a horse race and out $10,000."

Aside from the great horses and the great rides that Eddie Arcaro presented, he also presented another side of himself, which naturally attracted the affection of the racegoer. In the walking ring at Belmont Park, for instance, he seemed to enjoy parading his horses before leaving the paddock to go onto the track. The people would hoot at him and call him Banana Nose, but he would laugh and enjoy the byplay. "The horse-players were funny," he said. "And I enjoyed being Eddie Arcaro immensely. Sometimes, though, they'd get to me and bring out the Dago in me. One time at Belmont this guy whispered, 'Hey, Arcaro, I hope your children get cancer.' I could have killed him, and if I wasn't on a horse I would have jumped over that rail and got him."

He thought for a minute and said, "I guess Johnny Longden is the oldest guy around outside of me that is still riding. When I was out in California this winter he came to me and said, 'Eddie, I'm thinking about retiring.' I said to him Johnny, you're only 54, you're just approaching your prime. Tonight he called me on the phone to say something nice about my retiring. I was busy and couldn't get to the phone, but I bet he was sittin' out there in Arcadia with all his money on the kitchen table, wearing a 40� necktie and gettin' ready to laugh when I found out he was calling me collect.

Continue Story
1 2