Nobody who has followed the career of Willie Shoemaker has doubted for a moment that this young man, now 27, would some day take his logical place as our premier reinsman. Well, it is no longer a question of some day, because that day is here right now. In the last 12 weeks The Shoe has ridden 17 stakes winners with earnings of very close to $1 million ($942,580 to be exact). And while Willie has been cashing in on such lucrative mounts as Gallant Man, Tomy Lee, Restless Wind, Intentionally and Clem, it seems—almost ironically—that his good fortune has been at the direct expense of his best friend, Eddie Arcaro. Master Eddie, who for years has had a singularly effective method of getting aboard the best horses in the land, has watched Shoemaker (and Shoe's hard-working agent, Harry Silbert) ride this incredible weekly victory trail, and, typical of the good sport that he is, Arcaro gives credit exactly where it is due. "Not only is he the best rider I know," says Eddie, "but, brother, that Shoe is jumping on them horses at just the right time—that'll get the juice every time."
For Willie Shoemaker, who has already improved his saddle artistry to a degree very nearly the equal of Arcaro at his best, this virtual monopoly comes as no great surprise. "I think," says Willie in his usual serious tone, "that I'm a better rider now than I ever was." If The Shoe merely thinks he's riding better than ever before, a lot of owners he's been riding for recently know it for a fact. Nobody, for that matter, is more aware of Shoemaker these days than Mrs. Adele Rand, who owns in Clem one of the most useful horses to pop up in a long, long time. A few weeks back, just after Willie had steered Clem home half a length ahead of Round Table in the United Nations Handicap, Mrs. Rand clutched Shoe in the winner's circle and exclaimed, "Willie, every time I see you on a horse of mine it gives me a very special sort of confidence."
Some of this confidence should have rubbed off on the Belmont Park horseplayers who let Shoemaker and Clem go off at 9 to 2 in last Saturday's mile-and-a-quarter Woodward Stakes. The reason, of course, that Clem didn't command more attention was that he was finally meeting Round Table at equal weights (126 pounds) after having twice beaten him while in receipt of large weight allowances. This time Shoe was going to have to prove not only his own skill but also the capabilities of a colt who had obviously been lightweighted way too often. Well, Shoe and Clem did it; Round Table (with Arcaro up) didn't even get in the money in a start that was to have put him up and over Nashua's money-earning record as well as in front for the voting for Horse of the Year.
For all his commendable durability and versatility Round Table simply didn't run his race in the Woodward. True the track was sloppy, but Trainer Willie Molter had not thought it would bother Round Table. And then, in the saddling shed Molter and Round Table's personal veterinarian, Dr. John Peters, made an important decision: on the theory that the colt's rear run-down bandages might collect extra weight in the form of flying slop, the bandages were removed. And with them went Round Table's chances, for, after running three-quarters of a mile with Clem, Belmont's gritty sand took its painful toll on Round Table's heels and he gave up. Clem did not.
When Round Table pulled up, both rear heels were bleeding, and if this didn't earn him a long rest after having faced the starter 41 times in the last two years, it would be most unfair to a courageous colt.