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Interview: Hall of Fame Jockey Bill Shoemaker: Part 1 Of 2

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 I conducted this interview with Hall of Fame Jockey, Bill Shoemaker and his wife, Cindy, in June 1980 at both Hollywood Park and at his home in San Marino, California.

At that time, Shoemaker, a legend in Thoroughbred Racing, had won more races — more than 8000 — and more money — more than $82 million — than any jockey in the history of the sport. He has won virtually every stakes race in America including 4 Kentucky Derbies, 2 Preaknesses,  5 Belmonts and 11 Triple Crowns.. Among Shoemaker’s record-breaking totals are 10 National Money Titles and 5 championships as the Year’s Winningest Rider. He won in England, Ireland, South Africa and Argentina; and he won purses of more than $123 million. He also owned every major Delmar Racetrack record including seven seasonal titles.

Three years ago he married Cindy. At the time of this interview, at the age of 50, The Shoe is the proud father of his firstborn child, Amanda, his and Cindy’s beautiful one-year-old daughter.

 

This is part 1 of a 2-part interview. Part 2 Coming Memorial Day 2011

 

In 1968, when you severely broke your leg and had reason to believe you might never race again — was that a low point of your life?

I thought about it and I decided if that’s the way it’s going to be, that’s the way it’s going to be. I’m not going to cry about it. That’s the way life is. I figured whatever I was going to do, I was going to have to do. I don’t worry about anything I can’t control.

Yet, in the 70s the emotional difficulties you had with your second wife. It did affect your work. It did take its toll.

Not really. Maybe it did a little, but not much. I mean I tried to keep the two separated and I did it most of the time.

What I’ve read is that you were calling in sick a lot, that you were…

All of that — yeah, but that was mostly because I was getting tired and didn’t want to ride anymore.

What turned you back onto racing again?

I met a new girl, got married again. And the little baby, Amanda. I found there’s a lot more to life than horses.

So if you chose to retire, it’s not the end of the world for you?

Not at all. I’ve had a great career and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. But everything has got to come to an end sometime. It’s not going to affect me that much when it happens.

I think of Mohammed Ali when I think of someone who is champion and can’t let go. You are suggesting that you could walk away from being the greatest jockey, that you could let go.

Exactly right

If you didn’t have Cindy and baby, would it be harder to let go of it?

– Probably, yeah.

Given you are at the very top of your profession as a jockey — #1 — would you need to be the best at whatever else you chose to do?

– I don’t think I’d have any problem. Whatever I want to do, whatever I’m going to do, I will do it well.

What if you weren’t the best?

Well, I would be the best I can. I wouldn’t worry about it if I couldn’t be the best. I would give it all I have, to the best of my ability, as far as I could go with it.

Is that what winning is, coming in first?

You might not win. Somebody might beat you. It’s how you handle it that makes you a winner. Life is that little baby I have. My wife and my baby are what is important to me. They are what life is all about.

Cindy, this question is for you: do you ever think of Bill as “the very best” of his profession?

Cindy: Yes, here at home he’s my husband, he’s my friend, he’s the father of my child. Yet I can’t help but notice who he is. I look around his home at the trophies, the pictures — it’s all here, but it’s all part of our home.

It’s when I read articles, when people call to do interviews, to take pictures — that’s when I think about it.

I’m very proud of him. Very proud of him. But he was Bill Shoemaker at the top of his game long before I came into his life.

Did it come as a surprise to you when he asked you to marry him? It happened really fast, didn’t it?

Cindy: Yeah… no, not from the time that we were dating. We knew all along that as soon as his divorce would be final we would get married. I was a little surprised that he wanted to date me, when it first started.

Why would that surprise you?

Cindy: I just thought “why would he want to go out with me?” Anybody who is looked up to as being number one usually has their pick. No matter what sport or profession — actors, actresses, artists, whatever.

So you thought “why me?”

Cindy: Yeah, I was very pleased because my interest was there, but “Y. me” lasted only a short time. Then it became, “I’m glad it’s me.”

When you look around yourself and see the very wonderful way your life has come together, do you ever get that feeling of “wow” still?

Cindy: yes. A lot. The traveling, the opportunities to see things and do things that are afforded us because of who he is. So many people I’ve met, so many, many places that chances are I might not have been too had it not been that I am the wife of Bill Shoemaker.

Have you noticed any change in Bill as an athlete that might be a result of your marriage or the birth of her daughter, Amanda?

Cindy: Bill Shoemaker is going to be Bill Shoemaker. But, he Here and maybe a little more tired from getting up in the morning. But not so much now. Amanda is very good. She’ll go to bed about 730 at night; she’ll sleep until about 7 to 730 in the morning.

Bill, do you have any plans to stop racing?

Not yet. My wife and my baby motivate me to keep racing.

Why?

I don’t know. I feel good. I feel young. Kind of makes me feel better.

A source of energy?

Yeah.

You seem to already own every record in horse racing. What goals have you left?

– I don’t really set any goals because the end could happen any day. Depends on injuries and that sort of thing at this stage of my life.

As it becomes just a job then?

No, not really. I enjoy doing it as long as I am fit. Physically, I’m not as good as when I was very young and you never know what is going to happen to you.

Like, I have a little — what did the doctor say I have?

Cindy: Tendinitis.

Bill: Some are kind of name he called it — in my right arm by the shoulder. But he gave me a shot and I’m feeling better today.

Cindy: — at this stage? What does “at this stage” have to do with anything?

Bill: — of my life. I mean, at my age it is easier to get hurt.

Cindy: well, you’ve missed a lot less days than a couple of other people I can think of missed this year due to illness or injury.

This must be the realist in Bill talking,?

Right.

What about your daughter, Amanda? What are your goals for her?

I want her to grow up with the right values in life and whatever she does, I want her to do her best and be happy at it.

What are some of the values you want to instill in her?

Integrity is one. Honesty.

What does it mean to be honest? Never, ever lie? Are there shades of gray or is it all black and white?

Well, I think you have to be honest with yourself first and honest with other people. Sometimes people tend not to be honest with themselves and therefore they’re not really honest with other people. Sometimes the truth hurts a little bit.

When you say you want her to be the best at what she does…

No, the best that she can be.

Okay. That’s an important distinction. Do you have any wishes of your own of what you’d like her to be?

Hmmmm, no, I don’t think so. I’d like her to ride horses like her mother does, “Jumpers”, if she feels like it or wants to. It’d be kind of fun for me.

What about you, Cindy?

Cindy: I would love to see that.

Bill: Hopefully, it would be fun for her.

I don’t suppose you would expose her to it…

Bill: Who knows if she’s going to like horses when she gets that age. She will get a chance to find out, though.

Are you planning on having another child?

Cindy: well, we’re trying to have one more child this year.

Boy or girl?

Cindy: oh, I’d like to have a boy. Bill’s got Daddy’s Girl; I’d like to have Mama’s Boy. She is so much her daddy’s girl.

What’s the biggest drain on your relationship?

Bill: I’m kind of laid back and she’s kind a…

Cindy: I’m hyper energy.

You want to get it done?

Cindy: Now.

Bill: I’ll get it done when I get around to it. Whatever.

Cindy: I want to have it done yesterday and you want to have it done two days from now. Probably it’s the one thing that causes friction between the two of us. I make lists and I function according to my lists. I feel real good at the end of the day if I can cross off everything on my list, and when Bill says, “No, no, we’re not going to do that,” my day has not been completed. I have to rewrite and put that one thing on my list for the next day. I mean, it’s silly. So I can’t even say that is something major. That’s the way Bill is and that’s the way I am. We just have to work within the framework of it.

Bill: She wants to get everything done and I figured if it doesn’t get done, so what.

Bill, what are the special demands that have fallen on Cindy because of your fame?

Bill: Well, going to functions in that sort of thing, trying to make it easy on her because she hasn’t been through too much of that before — doing interviews on television and radio, she doesn’t really like to do that. I try to make these as easy on her as I can. She really doesn’t like to do them at all.

Cindy: There’s only one star in our family, I feel, and that’s Bill.

Cindy, how difficult is it to live in the shadow of Bill Shoemaker’s name?

Cindy: before I married Bill it was easy for me to stumble through the day. Now I can’t always get away with stumbling because I’m Bill Shoemaker’s wife.

But it’s not just Bill. I have lost my total identity: I’m Shoe’s wife and Amanda’s mother. Somebody called me “Cindy” the other day and it was like that television commercial — “Cindy — that’s my name!”

So how do you deal with this?

Cindy: well I think I’ve got to be myself first. I don’t really know how; I just try to be me. You have to know who you are before you can really deal with what’s going on outside. You have to like who you are.

Is this why you’re jumping horses again?

Cindy: yes, I need to have just a little time each day, not necessarily every day, but a couple of days a week for myself.

I think you must have a life outside, away from your marriage. Bill has his racetrack. He can go early, he can play cards with the guys, he can get a rubdown. He has that time he can turn his brain off, relax, and take a deep breath.

That’s what my riding does for me. I have to concentrate and work hard at it.

How is the work paying off?

Cindy: so far, so good. I was Champion Adult Amateur at Santa Anita two weeks ago.

Bill: Last weekend she took first place in “Adult Amateur Jumpers” at the Santa Barbara National Horse Show.

Congratulations, Cindy. It sounds like you’re finding out who “Cindy” really is.

Cindy: It works out very well because we get up in the morning together. Then the baby gets up and I feed her. I give her to Bill and he plays with her while I go riding. Then, when I come home, he leaves to do his riding.

I love my husband, my baby, my beautiful home, but it’s nice to go out and not think about what I need at the grocery store, what I need at the dry cleaners — all my little errands. I need my escape time.

I am being Cindy first. But I am also Bill Shoemaker’s wife. Amanda’s mother. And I wouldn’t change that identity for anything.

Go To Part 2…

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8 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Jefrey - Kentucky said:

    Great article. I think it helped to humanize a great athletic icon and lets the reader see who Bill really is as a person, laid-back, easy going and relaxed. So many times sports legends get lost to the public behind their persona and we never really find out who they were until someone writes a biography or a documentary is made years after their deaths. I enjoyed this article. Ii also showed the dynamic between how a couple, one famous, one not deal with some interpersonal issues. She is fastidious and he is relaxed. She needs her alone time and he can thrive well in the spotlight. That’s great info for the reader. He is human and it makes him relatable.

  • Rick – Tennessee said:

    I really enjoyed your interview with Bill Shoemaker. I was always a big fan of his.

  • Colette -- Massachusetts said:

    I loved this! First of all, because I am a rider, who has grown a little tired of riding and I can relate to his comments that racing was something that he began to dislike. Secondly, because he was the best, and he continued to do what he loved for his family in later life. I am inspired by him, especially that he fathered his child late in life and was still riding aggressively at 50. What an awesome life!
    I totally agree with what your site promotes. It is nice to have that stories of local people. It is almost a necessity, especially when most papers related articles that are paid for by advertisers or are in their clients best interest. I say that as a former full time staff writer, that is what I disliked most about that position. There was not any room for creativity or local news.

  • Joey Croley said:

    This is very interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your wonderful post. Also, I have shared your web site in my social networks!

  • Interview: Hall of Fame Jockey Bill Shoemaker: Part 2 Of 2 | Winners Within Us™ Magazine said:

    [...] This is part 2 of a 2-part interview. Click Here to Go to Part 1 [...]

  • Francine -- Washington said:

    I enjoyed looking through your website. Bill Shoemaker was a great example of a winner, on and off the track. When Laffitt Pincay Jr. eventually beat his record, “The Shoe” showed up at the racetrack every day – in a wheelchair – to cheer him on.

  • Martha said:

    I read quite a few of your articles. I especially enjoyed the ones on famous people – Bill Shoemaker, Dennis Kucinich and Ray Kroc. I think all three articles have depth and reflect personal attributes of the interviewees that would not have been revealed without a skillful interviewer.I agree that our world is full of discouraging news but I think there is an equal amount of encouraging news to be found and reported.

  • Trevor -- Oregon said:

    I like this article. He has a really winning attitude.

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