The Shoe said, "Winning the Kentucky Derby is better than winning 300 other races." The last of his four Derby victories, aboard Ferdinand in 1986, also was his sweetest, coming as it did when he was 54 and thought to be washed up. The knock against him before that Derby was that he had lost the nerve to send a horse through a gap on the rail.
So, of course, that's exactly what he did with Ferdinand when he saw a glimmer of daylight at the top of the stretch. As he guided his colt to the winner's circle, the crowd chanted, "Shoe, Shoe, Shoe." Even Shoemaker, who always kept as tight a hold on his emotions as he did on his mounts, couldn't help but break into a huge grin before pumping his fist into the air.
Nobody in any sport has ever been as good for as long as the Shoe. His road to glory began in 1949 and didn't end until his tearful farewell on Feb. 3, 1990, at Santa Anita Park. Along the way he had 40,350 mounts, 8,833 victories and 1,009 stakes wins, all world records.
Since he was proudest of his Kentucky Derby wins (aboard Swaps in 1955, Tomy Lee in '59, Lucky Debonair in '65 and Ferdinand), it was ironic that when last week's accident occurred, he was on his way to dinner at The Derby, an Arcadia restaurant so named by former owner and jockey George (the Iceman) Woolf. Police reported that Shoemaker's blood-alcohol level was over the legal limit; ex-jockey and fellow trainer Don Pierce says that the Shoe had "only a couple of beers" after their afternoon golf match.
The tragedy was especially hard on the jockeys who rode against him. They knew Shoemaker best. Eddie Delahoussaye, who spent the night of the accident at the hospital, said he had only an "empty feeling" two days later when he rode Slinkee, one of the 35 horses that Shoemaker had been training, to victory in a Santa Anita allowance race. But it was Laffit Pincay, second to Shoemaker in career wins, who had the most chilling perspective. "Paralysis is my biggest fear," said Pincay. "I'm not afraid to die, but I am afraid to not walk again. When I have a spill, the first thing I do is to move my legs to make sure I have feeling in them."
As of Monday, it was uncertain whether Shoemaker's paralysis will be permanent. However, it's a sure thing that everyone in his sport is cheering for him.
—WILLIAM F. REED
The Flip Side
A New York artist puts the fun back into cards
There are Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour cards, jockey cards, hockey cards, rock 'n' roll cards, rabbi cards, holographic baseball cards, Soviet baseball cards, umpire cards and Desert Storm cards. ("I'll trade you Vesma Grinfelds and Moshe Feinstein for Colin Powell and the Cromags.") Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky recently paid $451,000 for a Honus Wagner card. A judge will decide on April 22 if 13-year-old Bryan Wrzesinski has to give up the $1,200 Nolan Ryan rookie card he bought for $12 from a confused store clerk (SCORECARD, March 18). The Baseball Card Market Report, a Wall Street-style newsletter, debuts next month.
Enough with the cards, you say. We said it too. But then we saw Paul Kuhrman's baseball cards. Kuhrman, a New York City artist, has been whimsically defacing cards for years. Tug McGraw, for example, was transformed into a tugboat. Rowland Office took on the features of a skyscraper. Mark Clear became transparent.
A few of Kuhrman's cards appear on this page. You can imagine what he does with Jimmy Key, Joe Price, Dave Justice and John Moses. Says Kuhrman, 33, "I started doing the cards 10 years ago with my friends. It just took off from there." He now holds an annual Card Defacing Party to celebrate Opening Day. Last week partygoers gleefully ruined 600 potential investments.