Friday, January 16, 2009
LEGACY OF JIMMY WINKFIELD LIVES ON AT AQUEDUCT
Thirty-five years after his death, the legacy of Jimmy Winkfield lives on at Aqueduct Racetrack, where for the fifth time on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Monday, January 19) a stakes race will be run bearing the name of the great African-American Hall of Fame jockey.
Formerly the Best Turn, this year’s six-furlong stakes drew a field of seven, including a trio of three-year-olds from trainer Anthony Dutrow in Fellow Crasher, the high weight at 120 pounds, Z Day, and The Prince.
The Bisnath Parboo-trained Giant Ryan, 2-for-2 at Aqueduct; Naos, a maiden winner from Todd Pletcher’s barn, and Great Debater, who broke his maiden at second asking for trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., complete the field for the $65,000-added race named in honor of one of America’s great jockeys.
Hall of Famer Winkfield made his mark with three-year-olds, and is best remembered for being the last African-American to win the Kentucky Derby – he won the race in 1901 aboard His Eminence and in 1902 on Alan-a-Dale. Winkfield also is one of but four riders to win back-to-back editions of the county’s most famous horse race, the others being fellow African-American Isaac Murphy (1890-91), Ron Turcotte (1972-72) and Eddie Delahoussaye (1982-83).
Born in Kentucky in 1882, Winkfield rode throughout the Midwest beginning in 1899, and had his best year in 1901, winning 220 races by his own count, including the Derby, the Clark Handicap, the Tennessee Derby and the Latonia Derby. A profile of Winkfield in a May, 1903 edition of the Louisville Courier Journal said: “Winkfield’s success as a jockey is said to be due to his good judgment and cold nerve. He has confidence in himself, and usually as much in his mount.”
Although African-American riders dominated the sport in the late 19th century, opportunities in Thoroughbred racing became scarcer and scarcer as Jim Crow laws began to be put into effect. After riding at Saratoga Race Course in the summer of 1903, and competing in the Futurity at Sheepshead Bay, a race won by Hamburg Belle, Winkfield would depart the United States for Europe and thus begin the second and more astonishing phase of his life.
His first stop was Poland, then occupied by Russia, where he found enormous success as a jockey and lived a fabulous lifestyle, dining on caviar and hobnobbing with wealthy aristocrats. He won the Russian Oaks five times, the Russian Derby four times, and scored multiple victories in both the Warsaw Derby and Czar’s Prize.
“For us, Winkfield was like Shoemaker, Arcaro and Longden combined in one,” a Russian horseman wrote in a letter to Sports Illustrated on May 8, 1961. After the Communist revolution in 1917, Winkfield led a group of horsemen and more than 200 Russian racehorses to safety in Warsaw; from there, he moved to France where he won prestigious races such as the Prix du President de la Republique, Grand Prix de Deauville and the Prix Eugene Adam before beginning a new career as a trainer.
Political unrest once again forced him to flee, and he returned to the United States when the Nazis occupied France, but to nothing resembling his former stature. . He arrived in New York with $9 in his pocket and eked out a living operating a jackhammer in a WPA road construction project in Queens. When World War II ended, he returned to France, where he lived until his death in 1974 at the age of 91.
He would visit the United States once more, in 1961, to attend the Kentucky Derby with his daughter, Liliane Casey.
“No matter what kind of life you have,” he once said, “you’ll never have a life like mine.”
The field for Monday’s 25th running of the $65,000-added Jimmy Winkfield:
PP. HORSE TRAINER JOCKEY WGT.
1. Taqarub Kiaran McLaughlin Alan Garcia 116
2. Great Debater Richard Dutrow Jr. Eddie Castro 116
3. Giant Ryan Bisnath Parboo V. Lebron 116
4a. Fellow Crasher Anthony Dutrow Ramon Dominguez 120
5. Z Day Anthony Dutrow Sheldon Russell 116
6a. The Prince Anthony Dutrow Channing Hill 116
7. Naos Todd Pletcher Mike Luzzi 116
Fellow Crasher and The Prince are coupled.
The Prince will race with blinkers.
Read more articles in the Aqueduct category.