"I'd love to meet that rider," Bud said. "You know, I never met him."
"I haven't either," said Harry. "That would be nice."
It did not take the Meyerhoffs long to decide. "We're going with the heel-and-toe man," said Harry Meyerhoff. The only reservation he and his trainer had about Shoemaker was his age. "Not so much his physical reactions as his mental attitude." Meyerhoff says. "At his age...."
Actually, Meyerhoff couldn't have entertained an emptier fear. For already this was a more buoyant Shoemaker, and with every gust of wind at his back he was feeling even more exhilarated. Since he had left one life and begun another, he was a different person. And he was up to his old tricks, back to doing things he had stopped doing, back to the hot-spoon trick and hiding the cuff links. Doc Kerlan, who owns horses, stopped in the jockeys' room at Hollywood Park one day last summer, draped his $375 sports coat over a chair and sat down to play cards. When the card game was over, Kerlan left and went to his box seat and sat down. He reached into his right pocket for a mint. And then he leaped from his seat, yelling, "That little son of a———" To this day the coat still smells of chili sauce. "I knew absolutely without doubt who it was," Kerlan says. "There isn't anyone as diabolical when it comes to practical jokes. But I got him. I waited several weeks. I made a special mixture of slime, the kind that you can buy, and I mixed it with butyric acid, which is the stinkingest stuff in the world, and I mixed it into one of the most horrible mixtures that ever existed, and one day he had his little boots set out and I filled the shoe part with it and he put his foot in it."
Last fall Shoemaker won the Marlboro Cup with Spectacular Bid, on a day on which the man could apparently do no wrong. Counting back on her fingers, Cindy figures that that was the day she got pregnant. For the first time in a long while, at age 48, Shoemaker was going to be a father. "He was in a state of shock," she says, "ecstatic shock. For a while Bill was driving me crazy: 'Don't lift this, don't lift that. Don't eat this, don't eat that. Don't do this, don't do that.' " At the year's end Shoemaker's mounts had earned a $4,427,860, sixth best in the country.
In April the Shoemakers moved from Beverly Hills to San Marino, a change not without symbolic meaning "There was nothing to keep me in Beverly Hills anymore," Shoemaker says.
Now racetrackers fairly marvel at a man renewed. "He's a great rider, he always was, but I see a new vitality, a new energy about him," says Trainer John Russell.
"Through all this rain and mud and bad days we've been having, Shoe's the first one on the scale," says Scarborough, who once took the messages when Shoe called in with the flu. "He's sort of the leader, by example. Jockeys complain about the rain and cold, and Shoe listens and laughs at them."
"I have never seen Shoemaker so happy in the 25 years I've known him," says Laz Barrera, who trained the Triple Crown winner Affirmed. "He is riding as good as he ever has at any time in his life."
Shoemaker is riding like a bug boy again, as a matter of fact, working horses in the morning, hustling them home in the afternoon. Silbert turned the corner of a shed recently and, to his amazement, saw Shoemaker down on his knees stripping bandages off a horse he had just worked. "I'm like a little kid again, you know?" Shoe says. "I want to get out there and see how a horse feels and try to work him the right way and not work him too hard or too easy, just enough to help him get ready for his next race.