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Ralph Lowe (R) owner of Gallant Man, looks on as jockey Willie Shoemaker shows newsmen how close he came to winning the Kentucky Derby. William Lee Shoemaker (August 19, 1931 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ October 12, 2003) was an American jockey.Referred to as "Bill", "Willie," and "The Shoe", William Lee Shoemaker was born in the town of Fabens, Texas. At 2.5 pounds (1.1 kg), Shoemaker was so small at birth that he was not expected to survive the night. Put in a shoebox in the oven to stay warm, he survived, but remained small, growing to 4 feet 11 inches (1.50 m) and weighing only 95 pounds (43 kg). His diminutive size proved an asset as he went on to become a giant in thoroughbred horse racing, despite being a high school dropout at El Monte High School.