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Eddie Arcaro. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Arcaro, Eddie (19 February 1916–14 November 1997), jockey, was born George Edward Arcaro in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Pasquale Arcaro and Josephine Giancola Arcaro. (It is not known what his parents did for a living.) At birth he weighed barely three pounds, and though he was not a sickly child he remained small in stature throughout his life, growing to an adult height of only five feet two inches and weighing a maximum 114 pounds. From an early age he loved all sports, especially baseball, but because of his size he was never chosen to play on school teams. To make matters worse, a devastating sledding accident when he was twelve, following a move by the family to Southgate, Kentucky, almost cost him the use of his right leg, but the spunky youth began walking on his own even before the doctors allowed him to....

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Murphy, Isaac (16 April 1861–12 February 1896), jockey, was born Isaac Burns on a farm near Frankfort, Kentucky, the son of James Burns, a bricklayer, and a mother (name unknown) who worked as a laundrywoman. During the Civil War his father, a free black, joined the Union army and died in a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp. Upon the death of his father, his widowed mother moved with her family to Lexington, Kentucky, to live with her father, Green Murphy, a bell ringer and auction crier. Accompanying his mother to work at the Richard and Owings Racing Stable, the diminutive Isaac was noticed by the black trainer Eli Jordan, who had him suited up for his first race at age fourteen. His first winning race was aboard the two-year-old filly Glentina on 15 September 1875 at the Lexington Crab Orchard. Standing five feet tall and weighing only seventy-four pounds, Murphy had by the end of 1876 ridden eleven horses to victory at Lexington’s Kentucky Association track....

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Sande, Earle (13 November 1898–20 August 1968), thoroughbred jockey, was born in Groton, South Dakota, the son of John C. Sande, a railway maintenance worker. His mother’s name is unknown. After spending his earliest years in Groton, nine-year-old Sande moved with his family to a farm near American Falls, Idaho, where he received a public education into his high school years. Growing up on a farm, he came to know a great deal about the behavior, care, and riding of horses. At age 12 he bought his own pony, and when he left school five years later he quickly found work as a racetrack exercise boy....

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Shoemaker, Bill (19 August 1931–12 October 2003), jockey, was born William Lee Shoemaker in Fabens, Texas, the oldest son of B. B. Shoemaker and Ruby Harris. His father worked in a variety of jobs, including as a feed store hand, a tenant cotton farmer, and a mill worker. Born a month prematurely in his parents’ small adobe home, Shoemaker weighed less than 2.5 pounds at birth. Despite the family doctor's declaration that the newborn child would not survive the night, Shoemaker's grandmother washed him, wrapped him in blankets, and placed him on the oven door for warmth. After Shoemaker's parents divorced in 1935, he lived on a ranch managed by his grandfather near Abilene in central Texas, where he first learned to ride....

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Simms, Willie (16 January 1870–26 February 1927), jockey and trainer, was born William Simms in Augusta, Georgia, the son of former slaves. Enticed by racing silks as a boy, he ran away from home to become a jockey. He worked for C. H. Pettingill’s stable in New York for two years, until trainer Con Leighton “discovered” him riding in Clifton, New Jersey, in 1887–1888....

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Steven A. Riess

Sloan, Tod (10 August 1874–21 December 1933), jockey, was born James Forman Sloan at Bunker Hill, near Kokomo, Indiana, the son of Samuel Sloan and Martha (maiden name unknown). His father, a psychologically scarred Civil War veteran who had a barbershop and real estate business, was unable to care for his children. Soon after Tod’s mother died when he was five, the family disintegrated. The diminutive “Toad” was adopted by Dan and Lib Blauser, but they could not tame the lad, who was not well behaved and indifferent to his public school studies. He ran away at age thirteen and thereafter was on his own. He worked in gas and oil wells, cleaned out stables and saloons, and assisted aeronaut “Professor” A. L. Talbot, who made balloon ascensions at county fairs. He then worked with older brother Cassius, a jockey in St. Louis, Missouri, as a stable boy and apprentice jockey. Tod seemed a natural jockey at 4′ 8″ and 80 pounds, but he had been scared of horses as a child and struggled to ride well. He was reputedly extremely kind to animals, and supposedly he could make any horse run fast by whispering in its ear and stroking its mane....