On This Date in Sports May 3, 1986: Horseshoe

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Ferdinand, ridden by Willie Shoemaker, wins the Kentucky Derby with a time of 2:02.80, beating Bold Arrangement by length due to a late surge along the rail. Ferdinand was the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby after being assigned the first gate in 23 years when Chateaugay won in 1963. No horse has won the Derby from the first gate since. It is the fourth win at Churchill Downs for Shoemaker, who at the time was horse racing's winningest jockey. 

William Lee Shoemaker was born on August 19, 1931, in Fabens, Texas. When he w.as born underweight, doctors feared he would not survive the night. Bill Shoemaker survived but remained short his entire life. In 1949 he began his riding career at the age of 17. Three years later, Shoemaker became one of the top jockeys in the country, with the most wins during the year 1950. He won his first Kentucky Derby in 1955, riding Swaps. He also won the Kentucky Derby in 1959 and 1965, while a mistake cost him a chance to win the Derby in 1957.

By 1986, Willie Shoemaker was in the twilight of his career. He was the winningest jockey in the history of thoroughbred racing, with nearly 9,000 winning mounts. Including three Kentucky Derby wins, two victories in the Preakness Stakes, and five wins at Belmont. However, in 1986 he was 11 years removed from his last major stakes victory as he got the ride on Ferdinand. He was sired by the Canadian Colt Nijinsky. 

Ferdinand drew the unlucky first post in a field of 16 horses. The first gate is a position that rarely wins in the Kentucky Derby as horses often get pushed against the rail and never get the chance to find the open space to win the race. No horse had won the Derby from that gate in 23 years. Listed at 17-1 after a successful pre-derby season, winning the Santa Catalina Stakes. Ferdinand was pushed against the rail, but riding the inside rail, he fought his way to the front and took the lead down the final stretch, winning in a time of 2:02.80, as Bold Arrangement finished second and Broad Bush finished third. At the time, Willie Shoemaker was the oldest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. Ferdinand is one of eight horses in nearly 150 years at the Kentucky Derby to win from Gate 1; no horse has won from that gate since. 

Ferdinand finished second to Snow Chief in the Preakness and third behind Danzing Connection and John's Treasure. In 1987, Ferdinand won the Breeder's Cup Classic, in what would be Willie Shoemaker's only Breeder Cup win and his final major stakes win. Shoemaker retired in 1990 with a record 8,833 wins. Sadly Ferdinand met with a tragic end when he was slaughtered after being sold to a slaughterhouse in Japan in 2002. This would lead to new fees and contract clauses to protect future champions from the same fate.