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Willie Sims’ Story: The Most Successful African-American Jockey

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Willie Sims was a dominant force in horseracing before black jockeys were pushed out of the sport. He raced between 1887 and 1901, when black jockeys dominated the sport. Sims competed in all prestigious horseracing events and made history. Keep reading to learn more about Willie Sims’s career.

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Willie Sims’s Early Life

William “Willie” Sims was born in Augusta, Georgia, on 16 January 1870. His interest in horseriding was aroused when he worked at his uncle’s stable in Augusta. He was able to work on his skills in handling horses and later worked for another stable owner, George Cunningham.

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Willie Sims’s Career

Willie Sims’ Story: The Most Successful African-American Jockey
Horse racing legend Willie Sims. Image Source: Pinterest licensed under CC BY 2.0

In 1887, at the age of 17, Willie Sims traveled to the North of the United States and started his horse riding career. Similarly, in 1891, when he was 21, Willie Sims won the Spinaway aboard Promenade and became one of the best jockeys in the country.

In 1893, Sims participated in his first competitive race and his finish made it into the lithographs. This led to national recognition and in 1893 and 1894, he competed in the Belmont Stakes. The jockey won the events in both years, racing in a Commanche and Henry of Navarre.

In 1894, he added five titles to his name at Jerome Park Racetrack. By this time, Willie Sims’ was a well-known jockey and was paid well. It emerged that he pocketed a $10,500 retainer, a fee higher than other white horse racers.

The following year, Willie Sims was the first American to win a race in England with an American horse. 

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In 1896, the jockey won his first Kentucky Derby on Ben Rush. The race didn’t start well for him but he recovered ground. The race ended in a sprint between his horse and his competitor, Ben Elder. Sims won by a nose. 

He returned to the Kentucky Derby in 1898 and won racing a horse named ‘Plaudit.’ A few weeks done, Sims won the Preakness Stakes on the Sly Fox and sealed the coveted “Triple Crown”. This was a historic moment because Willie Sims became the first African-American to achieve this feat.

The “Triple Crown” consists of the Belmont Stakes, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Skates. 

Willie Sims changed the way people rode horses. His use of the stirrups and crouch became popular, and it’s still used by riders today. 

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Racial Segregation

Willie Sims and other black jockeys excelled against white competitors. According to history professor Katherine Mooney, this stoked jealousy and led to the competition being segregated. 

As a result, black jockeys found it hard to get racing opportunities. Willie Sims went to England to compete. Sims reportedly retired in 1903. His life post-retirement wasn’t good. He went broke after he gambled all his fortune. Simms died in 1927 from pneumonia. 

In 1977, Willie Sims was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.

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