While insisting on that, however, Papiano has strived mightily to discredit the .13 blood-alcohol finding, elaborating on what Shoemaker himself said at that Santa Anita press conference: that he somehow may have been given alcohol-based drugs once he received medical attention. Noting dryly that vodka "is not part of an IV," Jones, the anesthesiologist's lawyer, says, "That's absolute nonsense." While Shoemaker's blood-alcohol level is immaterial in his case against the doctors, it is expected to form the core of the state's defense. Says Hiddleson, "The only dangerous condition that existed was that the driver of the vehicle was asleep at the switch—pilot error. That roadway is straight and one of the safest in the entire state. You get behind the wheel of a vehicle when you're intoxicated, you're basically a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, particularly when you have a blood-alcohol level as high as Mr. Shoemaker's."
According to a Glendora Community Hospital lab report, it was a good deal higher than the .13 found in the sample taken by the police. Hospital records reveal that the first blood was drawn from Shoemaker at 8:45 p.m., only 10 minutes after he was wheeled into the emergency room—when all he had been given was a saline intravenous solution in the ambulance—and that his blood-alcohol level at that time was .196, considerably more than twice the legal limit. And this, says Hiddleson, was already an hour after he had left the country club, during which time some of the alcohol would have been metabolized and after his blood had been diluted by the IV. Hiddleson adds that Bittle, the country-club bartender, has identified the drinks, the beer and the three martinis, that Shoemaker had that evening.
"It stretches credulity to believe that somebody with that kind of blood-alcohol level drove off the road because they were reaching for a car telephone and not because they were drunk," Hiddleson says. "[Shoemaker] either fell asleep or passed out. Bill Shoemaker had an accident because he was drunk. He is denying that, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, and Californians are sick and tired of it."
The Shoemaker affair has left those who have known him for years with an uneasy ambivalence—with an old affection for the man and sorrow at the harsh assaults upon his name, and yet with dismay at seeing him not own up to his part in what happened to him. "Everybody was heartbroken about Shoe's accident, even after they read of the intoxication," says Marje Everett, a former CEO of Hollywood Park who has known Shoemaker since 1949. "But once the suit was filed, it changed a lot of people's attitude about him. They lost that compassion. He worked all his life to build up a reputation and a quality about himself...to have it wiped out overnight?"
Shoemaker knows what the letters to the Times have been saying, and he blinks and darts his eyes and wrinkles his face when the subject is raised. "I don't think they understand the implications of the whole thing," he says hesitantly. "I can't talk about it now because of the lawsuits."
Why he has filed them and pursued them has been the subject of much speculation, the chief of which is simply that he needs the money. While Shoemaker made millions, he has also been a formidable spender. He has been through one extremely expensive divorce—from his second wife, Babbs, in 1978—and he has sustained a lavish life-style that includes supporting his current wife and their child in their hobby of showing horses. Meanwhile, as a trainer, his income is nowhere near what it was when he was riding. In 1990, his first year as a trainer, his gross earnings were $32,000. They rose to $70,000 in 1991 (his career was taking off when the accident occurred) then fell to $40,000 last year.
He rises early now to get to the barn and train his horses—he's down to 23—and he spends most of his time between sets in the office of his barn, watching through the door as his horses are walked around the shed, chatting with his exercise riders and talking on a phone with a headset. Now and then Gallagher, his assistant, stops to confer with him. At least twice a day, with the help of an attendant, he boards his customized Plymouth Grand Voyager van and rides the 200 or so yards to the main track to see his horses work. He rolls out the van door and winds through the crowds gathered at Clockers' Corner, like an old jockey navigating through traffic, changing speeds and direction by working the plastic straw attached to the driving mechanism of the chair. Jockeys and trainers and jocks' agents nod. "Morning, Bill," they say.
Often, people he has known for years look shy and awkward when they see him coming. "It's a natural thing when a guy sees me like this," he says. "I try to make them feel as much at home as possible. Talk with 'em. Kid with 'em. A lot of people act just like they used to."
Like his old cohort, Whittingham. One early morning, at Clockers' Corner, Whittingham spotted Shoemaker in the back of the apron against the grandstand. "How's my jockey?" he asked.
"O.K.," said Shoe. "You?"