From Publishers Weekly
New York Times writer Drape (The Race for the Triple Crown) illuminates a little-known figure in the history of American sports: Jimmy Winkfield, the last black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. Like that of more well-known black performers Paul Robeson and Josephine Baker, Winkfield's successwas a mixed blessing: racism and injustice ultimately force Winkfield to flee his native country for Russia, where he witnesses the revolution and lands in Paris with other Russians. The youngest of 17 children in a Kentucky sharecropping family, Winkfield's passion for horses sets in early, and his slight stature bolsters his desire to be a jockey, "where blacks and whites rubbed shoulders without cross words or a stinging backhand to upset the harmony."Black jockeys such as "the legendary slave jockey Simon ... who helped drive General Andrew Jackson from the racing game" and Isaac Murphy, who was so successful, he built himself a $10,000 house before the turn of the 20th century. While Drape's attempts at novel-esque narrative occasionally read cliché, this well-researched biography of Jimmy Winkfield and the larger chapter of America his life highlights is a valuable and entertaining read. 16 page b&w photo insert.
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The prospects for a small black man born in the American South in 1882 were grim. That Jimmy Winkfield, the seventeenth child of a sharecropper, grew from such barren ground to become the toast of three continents is nearly incredible. Winkfield's gift was a unique ability to understand and communicate with Thoroughbred racehorses. He parlayed that gift into worldwide success as a jockey, winning consecutive runnings of the Kentucky Derby in 1901 and 1902 before fleeing America's racism for even greater fame in Europe and in Russia. Along the way, he married three times (twice to white women), took two mistresses, fathered five children, made and lost fortunes, and was a firsthand witness to many of the events that shaped the twentieth century. Drape's exhaustive research allows him to tell Winkfield's story in detail and in context. While fully appreciative of Winkfield's accomplishments as a jockey, a horseman, and a man, Drape doesn't gloss over the jockey's many transgressions against those he loved, and that is what makes this biography not just a tribute but a life. Dennis DodgeCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved