In mid- and late-19th-century America, horse racing led American sports, and within that world, black jockeys dominated. From the bluegrass of Kentucky to the fabled domes of Saratoga, one black jockey, Jimmy "Wink" Winkfield, overshadowed all the others by the turn of the century. With the rapid-fire patter of a track announcer, Hotaling, who penned the definitive history of black jockeys (The Great Black Jockeys
), traces Wink's meteoric rise and tragic fall with eloquence and vivacity. As a child, Wink (1880–1974) was enthralled by stories of the great black riders, and by the time he was 17, he was toiling as a stable boy, eventually working his way up to jockey. A quick study, Wink became one of horse racing's most successful jockeys, winning two consecutive Kentucky Derbies, two consecutive Russian Derbies and numerous Warsaw Derbies. As the role of black jockeys began to wane in America and they began receiving threats from the KKK, Wink made a new career for himself in Russia and in Europe, racing in events there, winning big and even marrying a Russian heiress. Alas, after WWII, when he returned to the U.S., he encountered racism and the pain that comes with being a has-been. Hotaling's lovingly crafted reminiscence of a great athlete brings a vanished American subculture to light.
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He was a giant of a man who stood barely five feet tall; a fierce competitor with a gentle manner; a gifted jockey whose outstanding accomplishments made him a pariah in his native land. At age twenty-three, two-time Kentucky Derbywinner Jimmy Winkfield was forced from American horseracing by a virulent combination of racism and hard times. He could have become one more victim of Jim Crow injustice, but Jimmy never allowed himself to be anyones victim. Instead he launched himself on an amazing adventure through the epochal events of the twentieth century, and in Wink, Ed Hotaling weaves that story with rich historical detail to tell a page-turning tale reminiscent of E. L. Doctorows Ragtime.
This vivid and compelling biography has already led to Winkfields recent induction into the horse racing's Hall of Fameone of only three black jockeys honored there. Wink tells the story of Jimmy's rise from humble beginnings as a shoeshine boy in Lexington, Kentucky, to the top of turn-of-the-century American racing. Bursting with talent, confidence, and charm, this brilliant horseman was poised to become the greatest athlete in what was then the worlds biggest sport when he was blackballed by stable owners in 1903. Desperate to continue racing, Wink left his beloved Kentucky, bought a steamer ticket for Europe, and made the world his racetrack.
Hotaling follows Wink on a decades-long odyssey through the capitals of Europe. From the splendor and repression of Czarist Russia to the upheaval and brutality of the Bolshevik Revolution, from the militaristic pomp of the Kaisers Germany to the sophisticated elegance of Josephine Bakers Paris, Wink excelled in his sport, winning purses that far surpassed his Kentucky Derby prizes.
But history seemed always to be gaining on Jimmy. He was the "black maestro" in Moscow, living large, when he and others were forced by the Bolshevik Army into an eleven-hundred-mile overland trek to Poland, herding two hundred thoroughbred horses and surviving on horse flesh. Two decades later, on top once more in France, he had to flee yet againthis time to protect his family from Nazi occupiers. In his sixties, Wink wielded a jackhammer with his 105-pound frame on the streets of Queens for Roosevelts Works Progress Administration. In his seventies, he reestablished himself as a top French trainer and stable owner. He died in Paris at age ninety-four, still homesick for the rolling bluegrass meadows of his boyhood.
No athlete has ever had a more spectacular career or demonstrated more courageously how to ride past any hardship. Jimmy Winkfield achieved a human greatness that transcends the limits of sport. Wink tells this wonderful storythis American storyin all its rich and vibrant power.
Ed Hotaling, a leading social historian, is the nations preeminent authority on the history of black jockeys. An Emmy-winning reporter for the NBC television station in Washington, D.C., he is the author of The Great Black Jockeys and They're Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga.
"This may be the most fascinating untold sports story in American history."Charles Osgood, anchor, CBS News Sunday Morning
"One of the most extraordinary stories in sports history is also one of its least known. Jimmy Winkfield was a gifted jockey and a remarkably intrepid man, and his life was a singular adventure. His is a story of persistence, hardship, and triumph, and it should be long remembered."Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend
"It is phenomenal enough that Jimmy Winkfield became a dominant force in American horse racing half a century before Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. But this two-time Kentucky Derbywinner's adventures after leaving to race overseas make his story all the more compelling. Ed Hotaling has a marvelous tale to tell. This is the stuff of great nonfiction."Douglas Brinkley, author of Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War
"In this fine book, Ed Hotaling adds the texture of a rich individual life to what his previous work has already told us about the great black jockeys of a century ago."Henry Louis Gates, Jr., bestselling author, Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University