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.”