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Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield Hardcover – October 1, 2004
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"In the entire sweep of American sports, from the days of a roistering John L. Sullivan in the 19th Century through the Tiger Woods phenomenon of the 21st, no figure made a bolder and more original odyssey of his life than Jimmy Winkfield, the poor son of former slaves whose brilliance as a jockey bore him from the winner's circle at the Kentucky Derby to the royal courts of Czarist Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and from Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany to the salons of Paris. In Wink, author Ed Hotaling skilfully reports and chronicles Winkfield's battles against racism in the New World--his courage and daring in escaping that most implacable of foes--and his success and rise to glory as a rider and then a trainer in the Old World. The tale of Wink is an illuminating and inspiring read." —William Nack, author of Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, and My Turf: Horses, Boxers, Blood Money and the Sporting Life
"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 Derby–winner'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
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From the Inside Flap
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
- Publisher : McGraw-Hill; 1st edition (October 1, 2004)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0071418628
- ISBN-13 : 978-0071418621
- Item Weight : 1.52 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 1.25 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,190,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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LOVED THE BOOK
The stories and settings really defy belief. Maybe it's the lack of primary sources, or maybe it's the author's intent, but the book seems to be as much about the world he lived in as about the man Jimmy Winkfield himself. Winkfield's story is right at the intersection of a number of historical tragedies: the rise of the American apartheid system, the end of old Europe, the Russian revolution(s), World Wars, etc. -- and this really makes you think about all these things. I knew the author long ago, and his prose is like his conversation: apt to wander a bit, but usually because he's found something more interesting to discuss in the meantime! The book jumps back and forth from jockeys training regimens and (a lot of detail) on season results, to Tolstoy's life and what Hitler was reading in Vienna, among other subjects.
I don't really have much interest in horse racing, but I think this book gives a good sense of the ins and outs for a layman, and makes me want to read more. It also gives some insight into the industry and how and why the sport was so dominant for so long in so many parts of the world.
I'll be amazed if ESPN can find 60 more interesting stories about sport to tell than this one -- maybe the next 30 for 30?
Leaving America, Winkfield traveled first to Poland, and then to Russia, where he was known as the "black maestro" and enjoyed even more success than he had had at home. In fact, he would become "the winningest jockey in the czar's Russia" (pg. 228). Among his accomplishments there is the capture of no less than four runnings of the All-Russian Derby, as well as the Emperor's Purse and two runnings of the Moscow Derby. While there was still racism to be found in Europe, the situation was less sinister and Winkfield was seen more as a curiosity at first, and later a hero, causing racegoers to cast their bets on the jockey rather than the horses he rode. And with good reason: Winkfield had a knack for finding the "race" in a racehorse and getting it out, and his win record was over 50% at this point in his career - a seemingly impossible accomplishment.
When the situation in Russia began to decline with the Revolution of 1905, Winkfield moved on. His career took him through Germany, Austria, and Hungary, in all of which he enjoyed further success, and at last to France, where he won the prestigious Prix du President de la Republique. In the late 1920s, as Winkfield moved into middle-age, he began to taper off his riding career in favor of training, and quit riding altogether at the age of fifty in 1930. The author points out: "He retired at twice the age most riders did. By his estimate, he had ridden more than 2,300 winners" (pg. 227). He established a training operation in Maisons-Laffitte and saddled quite a number of winners.
But with the emergence of Adolf Hitler and the beginning of World War II, Winkfield would face a whole new set of challenges. His farm was confiscated by the Germans, and Winkfield returned to America in 1941 with only $9 to his name. The former star jockey and successful trainer was reduced to working a jackhammer on the streets of New York at the age of sixty-one. After the war, however, Winkfield was able to return to France and rebuild his farm at Maisons-Laffitte. After a life filled with unprecedented adventure, and establishing himself first as the last great African American jockey and an international champion, and next as a successful trainer, Jimmy Winkfield died in his sleep in 1974, at the age of ninety-four. He is one of only three black jockeys that have been inducted into the horse racing Hall of Fame.
"Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield" was a fascinating read. I must admit I had never heard of Jimmy Winkfield before I came across this book, and I suspect there are many more like myself, but as author Ed Hotaling (who admits to not having any idea who Winkfield was when he saw the man in person in Paris) says, "after reading his story, you will never forget him" (pg. x). The prose flows easily and does this amazing jockey all the justice he deserves.
My only criticism of Hotaling's book, actually, is that in some places Hotaling goes a little overboard in his praise. Winkfield was certainly worthy of all the good things said of his career, but whenever the author discusses Winkfield in his role as a less-than-perfect family man - he cheated on his first wife, abandoned his second, cheated repeatedly on his third, fathered several children with his mistresses (and refused to help support these children financially), and treated his nephew, with whose care he had been entrusted, as something of a male Cinderella, leaving him home to do chores while the rest of the family went on outings to see movies - Hotaling comes across as being eager to gloss over these shortcomings and find excuses for Winkfield's behavior. The book would have been a bit more effective if the author had simply documented these facts and let them be, rather than trying to prettify things and lay the blame on others as he does.
Overall, however, I did enjoy the book very much. In addition to relating the many adventures of Winkfield's own life, Hotaling provides a wealth of background information that paints a vivid picture of life in both Europe and America at each stage of Winkfield's career. We learn much about the history of racing and of black jockeys, as well as gaining insight into broader historical events such as the Russo-Japanese War, the Revolution of 1905 in Russia, World War I, the Russian Revolution, and World War II, all of which impacted Winkfield's life and career. There is also plenty of interesting material on how racing and life in general in each of the countries where Winkfield rode compared to one another. The story is both impressive and inspiring. This is certainly a book I'd recommend to anyone with an interest in horse racing and its history.
Still, like the reviewer below noted, Hotaling glosses over the less-than-wonderful aspects of our hero's behavior, particularly towards his family. And given that this is probably the only book we're going to see on him for a while, it is a bit frustrating about all the information he leaves out. He never tells us where Winkfield is buried, nor does he go into any particular detail about what happened with his children or grandchildren. It's a somewhat slim book - 300 pages without the end notes - and I get the feeling that it was violently trimmed down in the editing.
In any event, though, these are just minor gripes. Even if you aren't a big sports fan, this is a gripping read for anyone who loves books.