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A crestfallen Shoemaker fled the jockeys' room before reporters could reach him. The stewards at Churchill Downs ordered him suspended for 15 days "for gross carelessness in misjudging the point of finish." But Lowe and Nerud stood by their man. "They got no business having all these poles the same color," the trainer protested lamely. Lowe, fearing that his dream had exerted some terrible power over the jockey, announced that with Shoemaker suspended, Gallant Man would not run in the Preakness. And to assure his rider that there were no hard feelings, Lowe bought Shoemaker a new Chrysler, among the gaudiest of the tailfin monstrosities of 1957. A somewhat chastened and certainly grateful Shoemaker returned in time to ride Gallant Man to an easy eight-length win in the Belmont.
That was 33 years ago, but Shoemaker, now a trainer working out of Hollywood Park, isn't about to forget such a boner. "The thing is, Gallant Man could have been a Triple Crown winner if it hadn't been for what I did. He was winning that race, and he won the Belmont easily.... At Churchill Downs, you realize, the finish line is a 16th of a mile closer to the first turn than at most tracks. I hadn't ridden there in a year, and I just forgot about that. I pulled up where most finish lines are. Oh yes, and there is that dream. It's possible, I guess, that it was somewhere there in my subconscious. I don't know.
"But it's a fact that something good generally comes out of these things," Shoe continues. "I know it was a character-builder for me." He pauses. "It taught me humility. And that's not a bad lesson for anyone."
"Looking for Roy Riegels's house, are you?" the man from the Woodland, Calif., chamber of commerce inquires, winking conspicuously. "Well, you're only about five minutes from there. Just take a left on West Street, go about a mile to Gibson, take a right, and you're there. You are, of course, if you don't go"...significant pause here to hammer home the punch line..."the wrong way."
It has been 61 years since Riegels set off on his historic run, but he's still paying a mighty stiff penalty. Here is a man who has been a pillar of his community, a successful and resourceful manufacturer of agricultural chemicals, a businessman cited by the governor and the state legislature for his contributions to California farming, a star athlete and smart coach, a father, a grandfather and a great-grandfather, and a man who, though 82 years old and seriously ill with Parkinson's disease, is living out his final years with uncommon dignity. And yet, maddeningly, he is still known as Wrong Way Riegels. In the world of boners, there is no statute of limitations.
Riegels was the star center on a Rose Bowl-bound 1928 University of California football team that defeated six of nine opponents in a 6-1-2 season. Although he never weighed more than 175 pounds and usually played five pounds lighter than that, Riegels led the Golden Bears in conference minutes played that season and was voted onto the All-Coast team. He was an excellent blocker, but his true strength was at "roving center" on defense, a position comparable to today's middle linebacker. Cal's Rose Bowl foe, Georgia Tech, was undefeated in nine games and had outscored its opposition 213 points to 40. The Jan. 1, 1929, game figured to be a defensive struggle. And so it was.
There was no score in the second quarter when, on first down from his own 24-yard line, Tech halfback J.C. (Stumpy) Thomason broke over the left side of the line for a six-yard gain and then was hit hard by Cal safety Benny Lom and end Irv Phillips. The ball popped loose and squirted forward to the 34, where the ever-alert Riegels scooped it up on the dead run (defensive players were allowed to advance opponents' fumbles in college football then) and started for the near sideline. Four Tech tacklers blocked his path, so he swerved sharply to his left, giving ground all the way. It was then, running away from his pursuers, that he saw a clear route to the goal line and went for it. It was a fateful miscalculation, because the goal line he so enthusiastically headed for was his own.
As Riegels sped away, Cal tackle Steve Bancroft called out to guard Bert Schwartz, "Boy, am I glad I didn't pick up that fumble, because I'd have run the other way." Upstairs in the broadcast booth, a discombobulated Graham McNamee bellowed into the microphone, "What's the matter with me? Am I crazy?" Riegels had created such confusion that some of his teammates even threw blocks for him on his mad dash to infamy. Only Lom seemed to have the presence of mind to give chase. "You're going the wrong way!" he shouted, tears of anguish streaming down his cheeks. But his words were lost in the roar of the crowd of 66,404. "I didn't use my head," Lom later lamented. "If I hadn't tried to yell, I could have nailed him on the 20." As it was, Lom finally caught up with Riegels on the Cal 10.
"Get away from me!" Riegels commanded, apparently thinking his teammate was trying to crab his act. "This is my touchdown!" And he broke free again. Lom finally got hold of him on the one-yard line and was in the process of aiming him in the right direction when a swarm of Georgia Tech tacklers, led by Frank Waddey, pushed the two of them into the end zone.