If Shoemaker's bank accounts seem to offer no special incentive for him to continue riding, neither does his racing record. He has done it all. Once he rode 485 winners in a single year and could have won 500 if he hadn't decided to take a vacation instead. He has led the nation's jockeys in winners five years, in money earned 10 years. He has won the Kentucky Derby three times and almost every major stake race at least once. He has raced nearly 25,000 miles sitting atop a straining, lurching horse surrounded by other straining, lurching horses for a distance equal to the circumference of the earth, an athletic feat almost without equal in sports history. His reputation is such that he single-handedly distorts the pari-mutuels. "He makes a $20 bettor a $50 bettor," says Harry Silbert. "He makes a $50 bettor a $100 bettor. They play him with confidence. He cuts prices just by climbing up on a horse. I figure down through the years he's knocked off a point, a point-and-a-half on the average of every horse he's rode. Nowadays, if a horse is a natural 2-to-1 shot, Bill'll make him 6-to-5."
So what remains as incentive? "I don't know," says Shoemaker, "but I'm not ready to quit. I used to want to go to England or France and ride there for a year, but now I'm not so sure about that. To spend that much time—I don't think I'd like it. I rode in the Arc de Triomphe once, and I had a chance to go back this year on a horse owned by Earl Scheib, but I didn't take it. It's too much of a hassle.
"I guess I'll just go on riding here. I still enjoy it. I have a lot of things to remember, some good things, some bad things, but I'd do it all again. Horses like Gallant Man, Swaps, Round Table, Damascus. I always admired the distance horses the best. Jocks? Arcaro's still No. 1 to me. All by himself, nobody near him. He had everything: the style, the moves, the head. After him you skip down quite a few notches, and you come to jockeys like Jackie Westrope, Johnny Gilbert, and, of course, that great pro, Johnny Longden. There was never anybody more competitive than Johnny.
"People ask me what were my best wins, and I'll tell you, they all kind of blend together. My first win, on Shafter V, I remember clearly. But after that I have to think, to separate them all in my mind. I think the one race that I got the most satisfaction out of is one everybody else has forgotten—the San Juan Capistrano on the grass at Santa Anita, back eight or nine years ago. I rode a horse called Olden Times, strictly a miler, and the race was 1¾ miles. Nobody thought Olden Times could go that far, but I put him on the lead and slowed the pace down, and he just loped along nice and pretty. He had enough left to win it and fool everybody, maybe including me. Those are the races you remember, true tests, good distance races, not those short sprints that tear up your horse. But then I also remember a few sour notes. The worst one was when I misjudged the finish line in the Derby. That was a big disappointment to me. I didn't think anything like that could happen to me, but there's a lot of ways to lose a horse race. They're inventing new ones every day. The trick is to get out there and enjoy yourself. And I still do. When a good race comes along, with good horses and the best jockeys, I'm as excited as I was when I started."
Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a more rewarding and exciting summer for a jockey. When he turned 39 on Aug. 19, Shoemaker received a congratulatory telegram—collect—from Jack Benny. Last week he attended a state dinner hosted by President Nixon for Mexican President Gustavo Diáz Ordaz. All summer he hobnobbed with movie stars at Del Mar and played basketball and tennis and golf with his crony, Composer Burt Bacharach. He frolicked and gamboled and conversed with the kids of the neighborhood, and he drank a few whiskeys with the hangers-on who infiltrated his patio nightly. Professionally, he was at the absolute top of his craft, and his Chinaman smile and customary unflappability seemed to confirm a certain satisfaction with the life that flowed around him in the balmy seaside air of Southern California. If he had a problem, it was a minor one, and probably he would not even have thought of it if Harry Silbert hadn't brought it up. As Silbert explained later, "See, this has been the happiest association of my life, me and Bill. When I first took him I felt like I was his father. He knew nothing, you know? I just took somebody who was nothing. To me, it's a great feeling that I made him what he is. He was 17 when I was 38. Now I'm 59 and he's 39, and I still feel like his father. That's why I'm worried about this record. See, he's got to break Longden's record by at least 80 wins. You get me? You don't? Well, Bill didn't get it either when I told him. The thing is, Johnny's a very competitive guy, and if Bill just breaks his record by five or six wins, John'll come back. Sure as hell, he'll get out the old silks and he'll sneak up to Canada and he'll win enough races to get the record back."
When Silbert passed this word along to Shoemaker, they both laughed. Then they did a double take. At last report, Shoemaker planned to win at least 80 more races before retiring.