Aug 03, 2012
HOOFBEATS FROM THE PAST-JOCKEYS
By: HOWARD ROWE
The following is an article from the Hoofbeats From The Past book by Howard Rowe. If you would like to order the book plaese call 1-800-645-2240.
JOCKEYS: WHAT PRICE?
If we were to travel back in time to 1898, we’d find that despite a little war with Spain, America was relishing one of its best seasons for thoroughbred sport.
With the average industrial worker earning $12 a week, a select group of jockeys in that era actually made tremendous sums. American racing cards back then rarely exceeded more than six or seven races daily, and Sunday racing was unknown. The average eastern racing schedule at major tracks was less than seven months’ duration.
The best riders at that time received salaries or retainers from contract holders, with prominent stables frequently competing for the services of top-flight reinsmen.
A few of the chosen horsebackers who were recipients of inflated incomes at that time were Tod Sloan, Fred Taral, James McLaughlin and Fred Littlefield. The standard fee for a losing ride at a major course was $10 and a winning effort netted $25. There were no deductions off the top, except for an agent’s cut, which was modest compared to today’s fees.
Taral was employed by Marcus Daly, the so-called “Copper King,” whose wealth was well publicized. Taral’s salary for the first call on all of Daly’s cavalry was $18,000 per annum. He was free to ride for anyone else when his employer was not involved in a race.
Let’s remember that the purchasing power of a dollar in 1898 was at least 20 times that of today’s shrunken dollar. Given this perspective, you’ll agree that Taral was well compensated.
The “Dutchman,” as Taral was known in racing circles, resided in a modest dwelling located in Jamaica, Long Island. He was not known as a big spender, unlike his contemporary, Tod Sloan. Sloan was retained by the legendary gambler Pittsburgh Phil, whose square moniker was George E. Smith.
Pittsburgh Phil had obtained Sloan’s services for a princely $15,000 and at one time had arranged to bet $400 to win on every horse Sloan rode, thereby providing an incentive to discourage any thoughts of skullduggery that might enter the jockey’s empty skull. Taral and Sloan won stakes galore (before Sloan’s sojourn to Europe), between them accounting for the Belmont Stakes, Belmont Futurity, Fashion, Great American, Flash, Travers, Preakness, Manhattan, Laides, Brooklyn, Swift, Tremont and a Kentucky Derby.
Pittsburgh Phil’s admiration of Sloan suddenly ceased one morning at Saratoga. Phil was squiring a young lady of the theater at the time. He happened to spot Sloan emerging from her apartment early in the morning while returning from his customary observation of workouts. This ended the cordial relationship between the jockey and his employer,
James McLaughlin, known as the consummate race rider of his time, was outstanding throughout his remarkable career and never suffered from problems with increasing weight. He rode at 105 pounds during the 1880s and was astride three successive winners of the then-prestigious Clark Handicap, with all three carrying the identical weight of 105 pounds.
McLaughlin was the only jockey to ride in seven Belmonts and win six of them., plus one Kentucky Derby and a Preakness. He was standard equipment on such equine stars as Hindoo, Hanover and Miss Woodford, each of whom won more than 30 races. McLaughlin accounted for multiple scores in the Travers, Ladies Handicap, Juvenile and United States Hotel Stakes, each of which he won four times.
Aside from his regular fees and percentages, McLaughlin received a $10,000 check from the Dwyer brothers every Christmas. Generous as this appears, Phil Dwyer once was quoted as saying, “There’s one other rider that costs me more than McLaughlin, and that’s Willie Simms.”
Simms was worth every penny he earned astride a horse. He was not only the finest black jockey in America, he rode against the toughest white opposition available, most of them names you will find in the Hall of Fame in Saratoga. The all-time greats he frequently met and defeated included the likes of Taral, McLaughlin, “Snapper” Garrison, Sloan, Lester Reiff and Nash Turner.
Simms’ record, compiled during a relatively brief career, was amazing when one considers the lack of stakes opportunities during his era (1891-1898). He was the only black rider to win a Kentucky Derby, a Preakness and a Belmont Stakes. In fact, he accounted for two Derbys and two Belmonts, a feat rarely duplicated in more than a century.
To employ Simms, white owners had to bypass outstanding jockeys of the first rank in an age when racial prejudice was in full bloom. Today’s aura of sweetness and light mingled with political correctness and a dose of hypocrisy didn’t exist.
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