LAUREL — LAUREL -- Saturday is "Bill Shoemaker Day" in California.
The state's governor, the board of supervisors of Los Angeles county and the mayors of six municipalities have all issued citations honoring the world's winningest jockey.
Celebrities as diverse as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mickey Rooney are going to be at Santa Anita Race Course to toast "The Shoe" in a ceremony organized by the International Society of Athletes.
It is also the day that the 61-year-old former riding great, a national sports hero that rode 8,833 winners, makes his debut as a trainer at Laurel Race Course.
Shoemaker has sent a hyperactive granddaughter of Northern Dancer named Glen Kate clear across country to run in the Laurel Dash, which drew the bulkiest and perhaps most competitive field in this weekend's International Turf Festival.
Even though Shoemaker's accomplishments are legion, what the politicians, celebrities and ordinary racefolk are honoring Saturday is Shoemaker's sheer determination to live and work after he came close to being killed in a car accident about a year and a half ago.
Shoemaker is paralyzed from the neck down, but operates his 30-horse stable from a "sip and puff" wheelchair that he parks near the rail during morning training hours and maneuvers to the paddock in the afternoons when his horses are being saddled for a race.
The accident happened about a year after Shoemaker retired from riding and embarked on a promising training career.
"But the only thing that is different now is that he can't get on the horses," said his chief assistant Paddy Gallagher, who is representing Shoemaker at Laurel.
Yesterday, by phone, in a voice clear and strong, Shoemaker said he gets to the track about 5:30 a.m.
His life revolves around his family (his wife, Cindy, and daughter, Amanda), his horses and physical therapy.
Training gives him a reason to get up and get moving every morning.
"It's a lot tougher than being a rider," he said. "When you're a jockey, you can just get off and walk away from a horse no matter how he runs. As a trainer, you're stuck with him."
Right now Shoemaker has about eight to 10 owners, mostly the elite of the racing world, from Academy Award-winning songwriter Burt Bacharach to hockey star Wayne Gretzky to R.D. Hubbard, owner of Hollywood Park.
Gretzky owns Glen Kate in partnership with Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall.
He has named Laffit Pincay Jr. to ride Glen Kate at Laurel. "She's a sprinter that runs best on grass, and there aren't many stakes opportunities for that type of horse. That's why I picked out the Laurel race," he said.