Am I proud ofhim?" asked Pasquale Arcaro, the father of the jockey. "Prouder thananyone will ever know. I'm 70 now, and the doctors didn't want me to come tohis retirement party. But I had to come to hear him say himself that he wasthrough. He's got money and a fine family and a great name. Do you remember theday when he fell from Black Hills in the Belmont Stakes? It was June 13, 1959,and when I saw him go down I thought he was dead and I had a heart attack rightin the stands. But I remember May 7, 1938, too. The day he won his firstDerby—with Lawrin. My wife hardly ever touched a drop, but that night we wentout and tied one on."
'How do Ifeel?" asked Ruth Arcaro, the wife of the jockey. "I can't recall beingthis happy in oh so long. These last few years I've been terribly afraid forhim and so have the children, Carolyn and Bobby. Some Saturdays I'd get up justenough nerve to put on the television set to watch him ride, but then Icouldn't. I'd look the other way and hope that nothing went wrong."
"After 31years," said Joe E. Lewis, the horseplayers' comedian, "the littlechamp has retired. Do you know that if that bum retired 31 years ago I'd be abillionaire today?"
"For the lastthree years," said Eddie Arcaro, the Master, the millionaire, the mostfamous man to ride a horse in America since Paul Revere, "I wasn't whateveryone said I was—the premier jockey. There were days when the bursitis gotso bad that I couldn't lift my right arm. But I kept it a secret, and I fooledmany a guy when the finishes got close. Once I thought I was the best and thatthere was no one close to me. But recently I didn't want to ride. I'd say to myagent [Bones LaBoyne] 'Bones, get me on just enough horses so that I can ridebetween 2 and 3 in the afternoon." Arcaro laughed and LaBoyne, listening,covered his eyes with his right hand. "Maybe," Arcaro continued,"if George Widener decided to run Jaipur in the Derby I would have stayedaround. But I thought it all over, and decided it was time. Once I take thisdive [retiring] there is no coming back. When everyone considers it they wouldhave to think of me as being among the top five."
If Arcaro meantonly among the top five jockeys then he was underestimating his own skills.Baron Fred d'Osten, an internationally known racing authority, once said,"Since 1920 I have seen all the top jockeys ride in countries throughoutthe world, men such as Steve Donoghue, Sir Gordon Richards, Charley Elliot,Earl Sande, Roger Poincelet, Rae Johnstone and many others. Arcaro is farsuperior to any of them." To ask America's horseplayers which five Arcarobelongs to would be folly. To horseplayers he ranks with Edison, Washington,Lincoln and Churchill. In truth, however, as an athlete Eddie Arcaro ranks withDempsey, with Ruth, with Jones, with Tilden. As a jockey no one may beconsidered close to him, and although purses have increased and will continueto increase no rider will ever threaten him as the top stakes jockey of alltime. His record of 4,779 winners will pass, and so will his money-earningrecord of $30,039,543. But the record of 549 stakes won may stand forever.Arcaro also won 17 Triple Crown races and no active jockey has won more thanfour.
Once Eddie Arcarosaid, "I really believe I have my best judgment when the money is hangingup there," and owners and trainers sought that judgment for every majorstakes race run in this country since the early '40s. Since 1941 he had themounts on ten Horses of the Year while no one else ever handled more than two."I believe that he became aware of his greatness," says Arcaro's goodfriend and onetime riding enemy, Sam Renick, "after he won that Derby withLawrin. He was good before it, but after it he became great. He had confidencelike no one I've ever seen on a racetrack."
Says Arcaro:"There were plenty of times when I was afraid. Every day something wouldcome up that would give me a scare. But I figure that when I signed my name tobe a jockey that death might be a part of it. Every jockey should know that orget out. Jockeys know what hard competition is, and in racing if you want tomake it real big you can't be afraid of dyin'! That day I fell from Black Hillsdidn't bother me. You couldn't have put a gun into my back then and made mestop riding. I didn't think the injury was that serious.
"I've beenthrown or fallen off horses when I was bettin' my own money. One day atTropical Park I was riding a horse for John Gaver [currently the trainer forGreentree Stable], and I bet $10,000 on him. I thought he was that sure athing. When we came into the stretch I started to ease up on him he was so farin front. I figured if he won by too much that the handicappers would sockweight to him. As I started to ease up on him he went to the outside fence andjumped right over it. There I was, sittin' on my butt, out a horse race and out$10,000."
Aside from thegreat horses and the great rides that Eddie Arcaro presented, he also presentedanother side of himself, which naturally attracted the affection of theracegoer. In the walking ring at Belmont Park, for instance, he seemed to enjoyparading his horses before leaving the paddock to go onto the track. The peoplewould hoot at him and call him Banana Nose, but he would laugh and enjoy thebyplay. "The horse-players were funny," he said. "And I enjoyedbeing Eddie Arcaro immensely. Sometimes, though, they'd get to me and bring outthe Dago in me. One time at Belmont this guy whispered, 'Hey, Arcaro, I hopeyour children get cancer.' I could have killed him, and if I wasn't on a horseI would have jumped over that rail and got him."
He thought for aminute and said, "I guess Johnny Longden is the oldest guy around outsideof me that is still riding. When I was out in California this winter he came tome and said, 'Eddie, I'm thinking about retiring.' I said to him Johnny, you'reonly 54, you're just approaching your prime. Tonight he called me on the phoneto say something nice about my retiring. I was busy and couldn't get to thephone, but I bet he was sittin' out there in Arcadia with all his money on thekitchen table, wearing a 40¢ necktie and gettin' ready to laugh when I foundout he was calling me collect.
"I've spent alot of money. Oh, don't worry about me, I got a lot left. But I went firstcabin. I tried to live the right way. Maybe in the last few years I aged rightalong with the whisky." He laughed. "A lot of people have called me thebest hangover rider in history.
"It's beengood and it's been bad, but I guess it was the worst when I got set down for ayear. I tried to put a Cuban jockey named Vincent Nodarse over the rails at oldAqueduct. He cut me off and I shot out after him, and every time I went toknock him over the fence his horse kept stumblin' and I couldn't get to him.When the race was over the stewards called me up and old man Woodward [WilliamWoodward Sr., the presiding steward] said, 'Son, what were you trying to do outthere?' I said, 'I was trying to kill that Cuban so-and-so.' I got suspendedfor a year and every month I'd have to go before the stewards and plead my caseto try and get back riding. But for some reason or another they had a recorddevice in the stewards' room that day, and old man Woodward would turn it onand I'd hear myself saying again that 'I was trying to kill that Cubanso-and-so,' and I didn't have a chance of getting back. Old Mrs. Payne Whitney,she was the one that saved me. She let me go to Aiken for Greentree and paid me$1,000 a month to work her horses. Every few weeks she'd send me a check for$500 so I'd have some money to spend. Young Carolyn was just about to be born,and Ruth and I didn't have much money. She wrote a letter to Mr. Woodward and Istill have it. Tt said, 'Dear Bill, I know you try to do the best for everyone,but the one thing I want to see before I die is to see Eddie ride again.' Andhe let me and it changed my whole life. It made me obey the rules, and it mademe realize what being nice to people means."
"It has beentough but it's been fun too. I'll never forget the Thoroughbred RacingAssociation found out that my old man was running a bar in Covington, Ky. andthat he was hiring half of it out to a bookmaker. The TRA came to me and said,'Do you mind if we go to your father and ask him to close the bookmaker down?Having a book there might hurt your name.' Well, they went down and they said,'Mr. Arcaro, we are here to ask you to close down the book so that no scandalcomes to your son.' He looks 'em right in the eye and says, 'You go back andtell Eddie that I love him very much. Tell him also that my name was Arcaro alot longer before his ever was.' "
Eddie Arcaro wasa hero to bartenders, social pretenders, racket guys and Racquet Club members.Early one Saturday evening he was rushing through O'Hare Airport in Chicago tocatch a flight to New York. He had finished third in a $100,000 race atArlington Park, and he carried his tan grip in his right hand with his whipentwined in the handles. A woman rushed up to him, dragging a towheaded4-year-old boy with her. "Mr. Arcaro," she said, "could he haveyour autograph?" As everyone fumbled for a pen Arcaro knelt next to the boyand patted his head. When no pen was produced Arcaro shrugged his shoulders andgave the boy the whip. When his flight was called and he left the woman said,"My! My! What a fine little man."