"He was one of the greatest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing in my life," said Chris McCarron, the retired Hall of Fame jockey who rode with Shoemaker and who now is general manager of Santa Anita Park. "Forget about his ability to communicate with horses. His compassion for people was second to none. He stuck around for as long as he did for his daughter (Amanda)."
Shoemaker was left a quadriplegic in a single-vehicle accident on April 8, 1991, in San Dimas, California, east of Los Angeles.
"There's no way I would have been able to survive as long as Bill did in the condition that he was in," McCarron said. "It's just further testimony to his character and his fortitude. It's just an incredible loss."
Shoemaker, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1958, retired from riding on Feb. 3, 1990, after a career of more than 41 years in which he rode 8,833 winners, the record for 29 years until surpassed by Laffit Pincay Jr. on Dec. 10, 1999.
"This is a very sad time for me," Pincay said from his home in Arcadia Sunday. "I talked with Shoe three or four days ago about a trip I had taken to New York to help find a cure for paralysis. I told him how close they were to finding a cure and he was very excited and sounded happy about it.
"We were good friends for many, many years. He was my idol when I came to this country and he was always a Class-A guy. I know he wasn't happy in that wheelchair, but he never complained."
Fellow Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye, who retired last year due to injuries suffered in a spill at Del Mar, said he and Shoemaker were friends for 25 years. "Shoe had his ups and downs, and to be paralyzed for the last 12 years of his life, well, sometimes life isn't fair, but he was one of the toughest guys you'll ever meet. I'll miss him."``He was a beautiful, wonderful man," said retired Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. "When people die everybody says nice things, but believe me, when he was alive people would have told you thesame.''
``It is very rare when someone can unequivocally be categorized as the best in the world," said Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland racetrack in Kentucky. "Bill Shoemaker at the pinnacle of his career was the best in the world.''
Shoemaker "died in his sleep of natural causes," according to trainer Paddy Gallagher, a long-time friend who was at Shoemaker's home Sunday. Gallagher, 46, was Shoemaker's assistant trainer until Shoemaker retired from training in November of 1997.
A memorial to Shoemaker is scheduled for next Tuesday at Santa Anita.