A new book is teaching Americans about an extraordinary and largely forgotten sports figure from the early 20th century. African American jockey Jimmy Winkfield twice won the nation's premier horse race, the Kentucky Derby. But he was not allowed to walk into the front door of America's premier hotels and restaurants. In fact, racism forced him to leave the United States for Europe, where he became fabulously famous and wealthy, and survived a revolution and two world wars.
Ed Hotaling writes about his experiences in Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield. The author says Mr. Winkfield epitomizes the spirit of America: optimistic, determined, standing up to every blow that came his way.
"It's really a Christmas story," Mr. Hotaling says, "because he was born very poor, the last of 17 children. He worked his way up shining shoes and working in horse stables and eventually getting a job as a jockey. At a young age he began riding in the Kentucky Derby. He actually won the , "but we basically didn't have enough information because he was only racing in America for a short period of time." Then Ed Hotaling wrote two books - one about a series of great African American jockeys, and the new volume focusing on Mr. Winkfield. "It was a great help," says Mr. Grayson, "what he uncovered about the fabulous career of Winkfield, not only in America, but also abroad."
Last summer, Jimmy Winkfield was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame. Next month, on January 17, a race named after him will be held at New York's Aqueduct Racetrack. John Lee, spokesman for the New York Racing Association, says it is fitting that his city is honoring Jimmy Winkfield. "He's an international character," says Mr. Lee. "He wasn't just prominent in American racing, but in Russia, Austria, a trainer in France. So he fits the bill for being in the world capital of New York as an international character that anybody can relate to. I think he also spent time living here, in New York, in Queens. That was another connection that made us want to honor him in this way."
For his part, Ed Hotaling is delighted to see this belated attention. He says the two years he spent researching Wink's roller coaster journey from racism to fame and to exile and obscurity convinced him that Jimmy Winkfield was not only one of the greatest jockeys ever, but a great man as well.