Great Black Jockeys

BOSTON (BASN) — Most famous of the black jockeys by far is Isaac Murphy who is considered one of the greatest riders in American history. He was the first jockey to win three Kentucky Derbys and won an astonishing 44% of all races he rode.

Isaac-Murphy-jockey-7That record has not been approached by any other jockey since. He was the first jockey to be inducted into the Jockey Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing.

Sadly, his career was cut short at the age of 34 when he died of pneumonia.

He always had trouble staying at the light weight demanded of a jockey and was known to binge and purge. It has been speculated that it was vomit backing up in his lungs that caused the pneumonia which led to his death.

He is buried next to Man O’ War in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

Willie-Simms-jockey-8Willie Simms was a superb rider of the late 19th century. He brought winning mounts to the wire 24.8% of the time.Simms was born in 1870 in Augusta, Ga., and began riding at East Coast tracks in 1887.

During his career he rode for the most prominent owners of the era, including Mike and Phil Dwyer, Richard Croker, Pierre Lorillard, August Belmont, and James R. Keene.  Simms won back-to-back Belmont Stakes in 1893-94 aboard Commanche and Henry of Navarre.

He also was a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby aboard Ben Brush and Plaudit and was the only African-American jockey to win the Preakness, aboard Sly Fox in 1898.

One of Simms’ most dramatic races was a match between Dobbin and Domino in 1893. Simms and Dobbin finished in a dead heat with the previously unbeaten Domino.

Simms found great success riding the New York circuit in the 1890′s. He also briefly rode in England in 1895. Many sources credit Simms with introducing the British to the short stirrup style of riding later popularized by Tod Sloan.

Willie Simms was the nation’s leading jockey in 1894. He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1977.



Kevin Krigger (Jockey)

Krigger: Preakness Dreams and Racing History

GoldencentsKevinKriggerPimlico05082013JM298Kevin Krigger has never won a Triple Crown race, but he admits it’s been on his bucket list since arriving in the U.S. from his native St. Croix more than a decade ago.

On May 18, 2014 he could become the first African-American jockey to win the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) since Willie Simms’ victory in 1898. The only other African-American to ride to victory in the Preakness was George “Spider” Anderson, who did so in 1889.

“Basically that’s just part of the history,” said the soft-spoken Krigger, who will be the first African-American jockey to ride in the Preakness since Wayne Barnett finished eighth aboard Sparrowvon in 1985. “The media actually is paying more attention to it than I am because I really don’t have time to worry about that. I’m focused here on getting Goldencents   in the Preakness winner’s circle.”

Krigger could have been back home riding at Betfair Hollywood Park, but trainer Doug O’Neill asked him to stay with the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner and be aboard for all of his subsequent training for the Preakness.

Goldencents finished 17th as the third betting choice in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), which was contested over a sloppy, sealed track at Churchill Downs.

“It was one of those races where…we just had to go back to the drawing board,” said Krigger, who has been aboard for all seven of Goldencents’ races. “We didn’t get the outcome we were looking for, but the greatest thing is the horse came back healthy and we’re here getting ready for the Preakness.”

Krigger said he eased up on the son of Into Mischief   once he realized he was out of contention in the Derby, so he hasn’t lost any confidence in him. O’Neill admitted he was impressed by the fact that Krigger did the right thing by his colt.

“Kevin’s such a positive guy and such a positive rider,” O’Neill said May 14 after Krigger took Goldencents out for his regular morning gallop around Pimlico Race Course. “He’s been great with the horse, and we’re pretty lucky to have a guy to make that kind of commitment. It just shows how dedicated he is and how passionate he is. He’s a real team player.”

Krigger said it wasn’t a difficult decision to make the commitment to Goldencents.

“I have a lot of faith in him,” Krigger said. “I’ve been on this horse every time, and these guys stuck with me. They kept me on this horse this far, and I would have felt bad if I was in California after they asked me to stay here… As easily as I could have ridden other horses back there, they could have had someone else on him. I’m on him because they have faith in my riding ability and we get along—not just me and the horse, but me and the entire team. They’re great to work with.”

Meanwhile, Krigger has become something of a local hero in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where his family still lives.

“I found out about two days before the Derby that I had a Facebook page,” said the 29-year-old Preakness rookie. “I guess it was put together by my sister and my cousin, and my mother informed me that the Virgin Islands media are trying to get hold of me to do interviews. She also informed me that a lot of kids are leaving comments as far as I inspired them to follow their dreams. I don’t really keep up with social media, but that made me appreciate [it].”

Only two of the past eight Derby winners have also captured the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown: Big Brown   in 2008 and the O’Neill-trained I’ll Have Another   last year. (I’ll Have Another never got his Triple Crown chance when he came up injured the day before the Belmont Stakes).

“I feel we have a good chance to win again; if we get a good trip, I think we can,” said O’Neill, who also paid his respects to Derby winner Orb  . “Shug’s (McGaughey) a Hall of Fame trainer. (Orb) is a Triple Crown threat for sure.”


George B. Anderson (Jockey)

George “Spider” Anderson: First Black Jockey to Win the Preakness

george AndersonGeorge 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);… Glenn C., Smith, “George “Spider” Anderson: First Black Jockey to Win the Preakness.” Los Angeles Sentinel. 2000. HighBeam Research.,

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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.”


African-Americans were the early superstars of Thoroughbred racing

African-Americans were the early superstars of Thoroughbred racing, dominating the sport from the mid-seventeenth century to the early twentieth century. In the antebellum years, slaves were often responsible for training and caring for their owners’ horses. But as the sport of horse racing began to gain in popularity in the United States from the mid-eighteenth century onward, skilled black horsemen were highly valued as trainers and jockeys. Records indicate that even as early as the late eighteenth century, some slave jockeys actually gained their freedom as a result of their excellent riding abilities.

By the mid-19th century, black jockeys virtually ruled the profession, riding in circuits from Louisiana to New York. In 1875 at the inaugural running of the Kentucky Derby, 13 of the 15 riders were African-Americans. African-American jockey Oliver Lewis rode Aristides to a two-length victory in the first Kentucky Derby. Other notable African-American riders include Isaac Murphy, victorious in 628 races out of 1,412 in which he rode. James Perkins, better known as “Soup,” for his love of soup, began riding in 1891 at age 11 and won the 1895 Derby aboard Halma as a 15-year-old to join fellow African-American jockey Alonzo Clayton as the youngest winning riders of the race. Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton rode a horse named Redstone in his first race as a jockey in 1890. He is only one of three African-American jockeys to compete in the Preakness and he finished third in 1896. Willie Simms won two Kentucky Derbys: in 1896 aboard Ben Brush and in 1898 with Plaudit. He also was the nation’s leading jockey in 1893 and 1894 and was the first American jockey to win a race with an American horse at an English race course. He is credited with introducing the short stirrup riding style to England in the 1890’s. Jimmy Winkfield won back-to-back Kentucky Derbys in 1901 on His Eminence and 1902 on Alan-A-Dale. He was the last black jockey to win a Kentucky Derby.

Oliver Lewis Isaac Murphy
James "Soup" Perkins Alonzo "Lonnie" Clayton
Willie Simms Jimmy Winkfield

At Belair, African-Americans were an integral part of farm operations. Stallion men, shed foreman and grooms cared for the Woodward thoroughbreds. Charles and Henry Thomas worked for Belair and Charles was Nashua’s handler. Mr. Woodward’s most valued stable employee was Andrew Jackson, a former slave born in Kentucky in the late 1850s. Mr. Woodward hired Andrew in 1900 and it was his keen eye for horses that prompted Mr. Woodward to purchase Captain Hancock, the $60 stud horse, as well as the three $100 mares that essentially launched the Belair Stud. Andrew was the trainer of record for Belair’s first race victory with Aile d’Or at the Marlboro Track in 1909. When Andrew died in 1932, Mr. Woodward erected the tombstone on Andrew’s grave at the Sacred Heart Church cemetery in honor of Jackson.

Andrew Jackson in his later years

Although African-Americans were sought to ride and train race horses, they were not completely free of the racial prejudices that were prevalent in the United States at the time. The most controversial image associated with African-Americans and horse racing is the lawn jockey. Legend has it that General George Washington commissioned a statue in honor of his young black groom, Tom Graves, who held a lantern for Washington’s troops as they crossed the Delaware. Upon Washington’s return from the voyage, he found his groom frozen to death, the reins of troop horses still in his hands.

Lawn jockey

By the time of the Civil War, lawn jockeys dotted landscapes throughout the south and had multiple functions. In some instances they were used as hitching posts for horses. They also suggested that the residents of a property had money. Their most important role was as signals in the Underground Railroad. A lawn jockey holding a green ribbon represented safe passage while a red ribbon symbolized danger.

However, not all lawn jockeys were representative of good taste. Many of the black-faced statues were offensive caricatures of African-Americans, reminders of the virulent racism in the United States.

Belair had its own lawn jockey. Dressed in the Belair silks of white shirt with red polka dots, the figure was once located in the center of the courtyard behind the Stables.

Belair's lawn jockey

Today, the story of African-Americans in horse racing is being unearthed and retold to a new generation of Americans who do not know of the gloried history of America’s first great athletes.

Source: Belair Stable Museum