George “Spider” Anderson: First Black Jockey to Win the Preakness
George B. “Spider” Anderson is considered one of the greatest African American jockeys in horse racing history. There are no details available on George Anderson’s early life, not even the place or date of his birth.
Anderson achieved his greatest accomplishment by being the first African American jockey to win the Preakness Stakes held at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. The Preakness Stakes is the 2nd stage of the Triple Crown series, between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes in New York.
On May 10, 1889, the day of the race, Anderson struck one of his coaches, James Cook, across the head with a whip. The reason for this altercation between the two remains unknown. There is however speculation that because the 1889 Preakness Stakes only consisted of two horses; Buddhist, rode by Anderson, and Japhet, owned by former Maryland Governor Oden Bowie, there was tension between Cook, who was a friend of Governor Bowie, and Anderson. There may have been words exchanged before the race which led to Anderson’s attack. Despite the altercation, Anderson was allowed to participate in the Preakness Stakes before receiving any punishment for his assault on Cook by authorities.
Anderson won the race riding Buddhist and easily beating Japhet. Anderson finished the race with an astonishing time of 2:17.50 and became the 17th winner of the Preakness Stakes.
In 1891, Anderson had two other significant victories to his career, the Alabama Stakes at the Saratoga Race Course in Upstate New York and the Philip H. Iselin Handicap at the Monmouth Race Course in New Jersey.
Edward Hotaling, The Great Black Jockeys: The Lives and Times of the Men Who Dominated America’s First National Sport (Rocklin, California: Forum, 1999); http://www.jimcrowhistory.org/scripts/jimcrow/sports.cgi?sport=Horseraci… Glenn C., Smith, “George “Spider” Anderson: First Black Jockey to Win the Preakness.” Los Angeles Sentinel. 2000. HighBeam Research., http://www.highbeam.com.
ANNAPOLIS – In 1889, George “Spider” Anderson became the first black jockey to win the Preakness. In those days black jockeys were not uncommon.
In fact, the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 was run with a field of mostly black riders, one of whom, Oliver Lewis, won the race.
Not much is known about Anderson, said Dr. Kenneth Cohen, a professor of early American history at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Unlike Jimmy Winkfield, who is the first jockey to win consecutive Kentucky Derbies (1901, 1902) and has a race named in his honor (The Jimmy Winkfield Stakes on Long Island, N.Y.), Cohen said there is no historical trace of Anderson after 1891.
Anderson’s fate, Cohen said, is not uncommon for black riders of the era, calling his career, “short and illustrious.”
“Anderson’s Preakness win was historic,” Cohen said, “but needs to be placed in context.”
Anderson’s horse, Buddhist, owned by Samuel S. Brown, originally had no opponent. If that occurs the jockey merely trots his horse around the track to secure victory. Cohen said former Gov. Oden Bowie entered his own horse, Japhet, just so advertisers of the race would not have been upset by the lack of competition.
Anderson won comfortably by 10 lengths.
Before the Preakness, Anderson’s gradual rise can be historically charted in newspapers of the time, said Cohen. For example, Anderson was listed in Baltimore and D.C. races in 1884, though he lost in both.
Even if Anderson’s rise was gradual, from a historical perspective, his disappearance was abrupt.
With licenses in New York and New Orleans, Cohen said Anderson continued to win after the Preakness, including at the Alabama Stakes in Saratoga, NY, in 1891. But after that year, Cohen said, Anderson is not heard from again.
Cohen said as important as Anderson’s Preakness win is, how he was erased from the sport’s history is also significant.
His disappearance in record is peculiar because he was repeatedly mentioned in race results at a time in the 19th century when the focus was typically on the owner, which Cohen suggests makes it strange for Anderson to disappear without mention.
Though he admits it is conjecture, Cohen explained the significance of the inability to historically track Anderson after 1891.
“It’s hard to imagine a white jockey similarly disappearing,” Cohen said.
Jim Crow laws most likely aided the end of Anderson’s career, Cohen said, as they did most other black jockeys.
Tennis great Arthur Ashe once wrote in the New York Times that once the Jockey Club was formed in the early 1890’s and controlled the issuance and regulation of jockey licenses, blacks were denied theirs.
“By 1911,” Ashe wrote, “they had all but disappeared.”