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Black Winning Jockeys in the Kentucky Derby
by James Robert Saunders and Monica Renae Saunders
from McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640
142 pages, softcover

Black athletes are the norm rather than the exception in today's world of professional sports, however in racing they are conspicuous by their near-absence. This wasn't always the case, with black jockeys and trainers appearing at tracks across North America in the past. Twelve black men were winning riders in sixteen early runnings of the Kentucky Derby, and 13 of the 15 riders in the very first Derby were black. James Robert Saunders and Monica Renae Saunders set out to educate racing fans on these remarkable athletes and what they accomplished despite the many adversities they faced.

Not surprisingly, during slave days blacks became natural horsemen while tending to their masters' racehorses as stable hands, a job whites considered to be menial, and boys as young as 11 or 12 were used for the obvious weight advantage they had over older jockeys. However, the white jockeys would conspire against them on the racetrack, boxing them in, pushing them into the rail, running interference, or using various other dangerous tactics, while the racing stewards conveniently turned a blind eye. The effect of this was to discourage owners from using black riders because they were unable to win races and earn purse money under such conditions.

The authors dedicated one chapter to each Derby-winning black jockey, in chronological order, starting with inaugural Derby winner Oliver Lewis and ending with 1901 and 1902 winner James Winkfield. In each case the reader gets a brief biography and then an account of his racing career leading up to his Derby. Next is a detailed narrative of their Derby with a photograph of the jockey, followed details of thier post-Derby career. An appendix lists black trainers and owners who have participated in the Run for the Roses as well as the black winning jockeys.

The authors found some very interesting details through their exhaustive research. For example, Jimmy Winkfield knew he would have second choice of horse for the 1902 Derby, so, in order to get the horse he wanted, he intentionally worked out his chosen horse slower in the mornings. Needless to say the plan worked. Rival white jockey Nash Turner chose "faster" worker The Rival, leaving Winkfield with Alan-A-Dale. Despite a rough trip and an injury in the stretch run, Alan-A-Dale won by a nose.

This is an excellent work for racing fans, especially those with a strong interest in the history of the Kentucky Derby and of American racing in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

Black Winning Jockeys in the Kentucky Derby has a cover price of $29.95 and can be ordered directly from the publisher, McFarland & Company, at 1-800-253-2187 or online.

Rating:     4/5

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