Anthony “The Black Demon” Hamilton was a natural in the irons. Born in Charleston, S.C., in 1866, Hamilton was a complete rider, possessing a rare balance of strength and finesse, and the innate ability of knowing when to be aggressive and when to be patient throughout the course of a race.
Hamilton’s first notable victory was in 1881 when he piloted Sligo to victory in the Phoenix Handicap. Throughout the next 15 years, Hamilton won many of the most prestigious races in America, including all three of the major New York handicaps — the Brooklyn (twice), Suburban, and Manhattan. Hamilton is the only black rider to win all three of New York’s major handicaps.
In 1890, Hamilton won the third edition of the Futurity with the champion Potomac. The race was the richest event to date on the American turf with a purse of $67,675. Hamilton enjoyed a remarkable year in 1890, leading all riders with a 31.2 win percentage. The following year, Hamilton increased his win percentage to a staggering 33.8 and had 154 victories, which ranked second in the national standings.
Hamilton’s success in the major American races of his era was phenomenal. His prominent victories included the 1887 American Derby, back-to-back editions of the Monmouth Oaks in 1889 and 1890, the inaugural Gazelle Handicap in 1887, as well as the 1890 Gazelle, the 1891 Lawrence Realization Stakes, the 1888 St. Louis Derby, the inaugural Toboggan Handicap in 1890, the Monmouth Handicap in 1889 and 1892, the 1886 Nursery Stakes, the 1892 Great Trial Stakes, and five runnings of the Twin City Handicap (1886, 1888, 1889, 1892, and 1894), among others.
Many of the top owners in the sport sought out the services of Hamilton. He rode in the colors of Pierre Lorillard, Billy Lakeland, Mike Dwyer, J.R. Keene, and the Belmont family. Hamilton’s most famous mounts included Hall of Famers Firenze and Salvator, and the retrospective champions Potomac and Lamplighter.
Following his outstanding career in America, Hamilton enjoyed considerable success riding overseas. He won the Metropolitan Stakes of Vienna and the Karoli Memorial in Budapest, as well as the Ruler Stakes, the first leg of the Polish Triple Crown. Hamilton briefly rode in Russia during 1904, but his career came to an end there when he was thrown from a horse.
Hamilton then moved to France, where he died in 1907. Racing historian Fred Burlew, the son of a Hall of Fame trainer, ranked Hamilton third on his list of the 10 greatest African-American jockeys of all time behind only Hall of Famers Isaac Murphy and Willie Simms.