The day George ‘Spider’ Anderson became the first black jockey to win Preakness
But history remains silent on what happened to Anderson after his historic race
On May 10, 1889, two things occurred at the Preakness Stakes for the first time. George “Spider” Anderson became the first African-American jockey to win the race. And the race was 1 1/4 miles instead of the 1 1/2 miles it had been for the previous 16 races.
Anderson’s victory at Pimlico Race Course came 14 years after Oliver Lewis became the first black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby and 19 years after Edward D. Brown was the first to do so in the Belmont Stakes.
Anderson and his horse, Buddhist, won the race in 2:17.50, a record that remains untouched because it was the only Preakness run at that distance.
There is little else known about Anderson, and within two years of his Preakness win there is no trace of him. According to Kenneth Cohen, a professor of early American history at St. Mary’s College of Maryland who was interviewed by Capital News Service’s Aaron Carter, this is not a new phenomenon with black jockeys.
“Anderson’s Preakness win was historic,” Cohen told CNS, “but needs to be placed in context.”
Initially, Buddhist was merely going to trot around the course because there were no other horses to compete against. To avoid the wrath of advertisers, who, according to Cohen, would have been upset by the single-horse field, Maryland Gov. Oden Bowie decided to enter his horse, Japhet.
It was a nice gesture. Anderson still secured a commanding victory, beating Japhet by 10 lengths.
Thanks to articles from the late 19th century, one could find that Anderson participated in, and lost, races in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in 1884.
After Anderson’s historic win, there isn’t much information. He had licenses in New York and New Orleans and won a host of other events, including the Alabama Stakes in Saratoga atop Sallie McClellan.
Cohen said as important as Anderson’s Preakness win is, how he was erased from the sport’s history is also significant.
His disappearance in record is peculiar because he was repeatedly mentioned in race results at a time in the 19th century when the focus was typically on the owner, which Cohen suggests makes it strange for Anderson to disappear without mention.
Though he admits it is conjecture, Cohen explained the significance of the inability to historically track Anderson after 1891.
“It’s hard to imagine a white jockey similarly disappearing,” Cohen said.
Jim Crow laws most likely aided the end of Anderson’s career, Cohen said, as they did most other black jockeys.