The day after riding in the Kentucky Derby, Kevin Krigger packed his family and gear and headed for Pimlico Race Course — by way of Cincinnati. A woman there had captured his heart. She was Liliane Casey, 88, whose father, Jimmy Winkfield, was the last black jockey to win the Derby, or any Triple Crown race, in 1902.
"I had to meet her," said Krigger, 29, who chatted with Casey in the living room of her apartment for nearly 2 1/2 hours. "We had a great time. She educated me as to what her father had gone through in racing."
Before Krigger departed, Casey said, photos were taken and phone numbers exchanged. Hugs, too.
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"He wanted me to come to Baltimore, to be his guest at the Preakness," she said.
Saturday, aboard Goldencents, Krigger will try to become the first African-American to win the Preakness in 115 years. It's a milestone that he has long embraced, he said:
"You have to appreciate your history, or else your present doesn't mean much."
Truth be told, there's not a lot to tell. To date, just six black jockeys have saddled up for the Preakness, and two have won it — the fewest in any of the Triple Crown races. Both those men triumphed in the 19th century, during Reconstruction, when the sport was young, agrarian and accepting of former slaves and their kin who rode the animals they'd once cared for. Around 1900, legal segregation kicked in, and black jockeys largely vanished from the American racing scene.
Even now, their numbers are few. About 50 of the nearly 1,000 jockeys in the U.S. are black, according to the Jockeys' Guild.
Willie Simms rode Sly Fox to victory in 1898, when the Preakness was run at Gravesend Race Track in Brooklyn, N.Y. Nine years earlier, the 17th Preakness was won by George (Spider) Anderson, aboard Buddhist, in a two-horse race at Pimlico.
Simms' triumph on Sly Fox, a Maryland-born horse, coupled with earlier wins in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, earned the Georgia native honors as the only black jockey to win all three legs of the Triple Crown. A member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Simms rode for 14 years and won 1,125 races — a remarkable one-fourth of his career starts.
In retirement, Simms turned to betting on races and fell on hard times. In 1907, he was ejected from Gravesend upon entering the track with a counterfeit $3 admission ticket. He died 20 years later at age 47 in Asbury Park, N.J.
Less is known of Anderson. Born in Baltimore, he was 18 when he rode Buddhist to a 10-length victory in the 1889 Preakness. It was a memorable afternoon for Anderson, who rode two winners and finished second and third in two other races on the day's five-race card.
Anderson rode for two more years and then disappeared, save for a New York Times' story in 1892 reporting that he had been acquitted of a shooting murder in Camden, N.J., having pleaded self-defense.
A decade later, African-Americans jockeys had all but disappeared. Emboldened by Jim Crow laws, whites conspired to purge them from racing. No secret, that.
"The Negro jockey is down and out, not because he could no longer ride, but because of a quietly formed combination to shut him out," the Times wrote in 1900.
In Maryland, a few black riders lingered, and prejudices lurked. In 1921, during a race at Laurel Park, The Sun reported, a white jockey deliberately drove a black one, Leo Coney, into the rail. Coney's horse fell, upending its rider, who "bounded from the ground like a rubber ball ... and then fell to the infield."
Coney suffered a fractured skull. The other rider, Frankie Coltiletti, was suspended for the remainder of Laurel's meeting.
At least one black jockey chose to fight back. In 1932, at Hagerstown's half-mile track, Charles (Old Man) Jackson, 45, slugged a white rider whom he said had threatened his life during a race and then called him "vile names" afterward.
Jackson, The Sun wrote, "attacked Pat Remillard after the second race, knocking him out, blacking his left eye and inflicting a slight cut over and under it."
Both riders were suspended, and later reinstated, by the Maryland Racing Commission. The media, particularly the Hagerstown Daily Mail, sided with the black jockey: