Color racing silks from the black and white era, 1884

Jan 19th 2011 07:11 pm |

We tend to think of the past in black and white. When flipping through images of racing before the 1950s, the world is awash in many shades of grey. While artists of the pre-color photography era painted portraits of great horses and imagined scenes of famous races and venues in color, they are few and far between and not always easily accessible.

So, I was surprised to find, while paging through some new additions to the collection of texts at the Internet Archive, that paintings aren’t the only source for seeing the colors of racing at the turn of the last century. There, I found an 1884 text titled American Racing Colors: Colors of the Owners of Racing Horses as Worn by their Jockeys at the Meetings of the American Jockey Club.

Title page from American Racing Colors

The book contains little else but color pages of owners silks from the early modern era of racing, when involvement by wealthy urbanites and interest by the general public — especially in New York — made it one of the most popular sports in the country. It is a fascinating source and one that literally sheds light on the colors of racing’s past. What follows are a few selections from the book…view the text in its entirety at the Internet Archive

James R. Keene -- Arguably the most successful owner of his era, Keene campaigned such legends as Colin, Domino, Maskette, Peter Pan, and Sysonby. With his longtime, Hall of Fame trainer James Rowe, Keene won nearly every prestigious race run in New York and New Jersey including six editions of the Belmont Stakes. In an article about Keene, published in 1905, the auther wrote: “...the world-famed ‘white, blue dots’ has been borne by a long list of equine heroes whose famous deeds make racing history.”

E.J. ‘Lucky’ Baldwin -- The prominent California businessman, most well know in the racing world for building the original Santa Anita Race track, was described in his obituary in 1909 as a “pioneer, soldier of fortune, and owner of horses.” He campaigned his horses at the most prestigious meets in the country and won the American Derby at Washington Park in Chicago three times, including a win in 1896 with the Emperor of Norfolk, one of his best horses.

Dwyer Brothers -- The Brooklyn butchers turned racing royalty, won the Kentucky Derby with Hindoo in 1881 and were part owners of the 1896 Derby winner, Ben Brush. The Dwyer Brothers Stable also won the Belmont and Travers Stakes five times each. They owned such greats as Miss Woodford, Tremont, Luke Blackburn, and Hanover. In 1886, they were part of the group that formed the Brooklyn Jockey Club and built the Gravesend Race Track at Coney Island. In 1918, they were posthumously honored with the re-naming of the Brooklyn Derby to the Dwyer Stakes.

Pierre Lorillard -- Prominent owner and breeder whose family’s wealth traced back to the start of the Lorillard Tobacco Co. in 1760, one of the oldest tobacco firms in the United States. Pierre Lorillard founded the Rancocas Stable in New Jersey where he bred horses for his racing stable. The Lorillard family won the Belmont, Preakness, and Travers Stakes. Iroquios, owned by Pierre Lorrillard, was one of the first American-breds to win the Epson Derby.

August Belmont, Jr. -- The namesake and builder of Belmont Park in New York, bred and owned a slew of stakes winners and legends. He inherited a fortune from his father, August Belmont Sr., who founded a wildly successful banking firm in New York in the early nineteenth century. Belmont. Jr. bred and owned the great Beldame and bred a total of five Belmont Stakes winners and four Jockey Club Gold Cup winners. He also bred Man o War but is best remembered for selling him to to Samuel Riddle in 1918.

David Durham Withers -- Withers was an influential racing owner, breeeder, and official who served as the president of the Board of Control, an organization that evolved into the Jockey Club in 1894. He was part of the ownership group, along with George Lorillard, who built the second Monmouth Park in 1890. Racing historian, H.P. Robertson, wrote of Withers: “...he brought racing jurisprudence to a position of respect it never had held before.” The Withers Stakes, named in his honor, has been run in New York since 1874.

I encourage you to flip through all of the owners silks found in American Racing Colors.  It’s an amazing piece of historical evidence documenting the early modern racing scene.


William Moffett, “Famous American Turfmen — James R. Keene,” Illustrated Sporting News, 1905

H.P. Robertson, “The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America”

So, the the 2010 Eclipse Awards are officially in the books. I was happy to see Zenyatta walk away with the big one, although I likely would have voted for Blame if I had a vote. Personally, I don’t get too excited about the Eclipse Awards. I do care who was Horse of the Year in 1965 but could care less about who wins in the years where I have a living memory. My memories of 2010 won’t be about who won the Eclipse Awards but the actual racing that I witnessed during the year.

Be sure to check out the new homepage if you haven’t done so already…there are some really great articles linked from the ‘Recommendations’ section this week:


Filed in Baldwin, 'Lucky',Belmont, August,Dwyer Brothers,jockey silks,Keene, James,thoroughbred racing history,Withers, DD

12 Responses to “Color racing silks from the black and white era, 1884”

  1. Barbara Livingston says:

    Fascinating! I collect historical racing books but wasn’t aware of “American Racing Colors.”

    Somewhere, I have a wonderful old handdrawn color sheet of many historic silks, drawn for me by the racing historian Fred Burlew – a great man. He was such a wealth of information – could look at an un-IDed photo from, oh, 1880, and within a few minutes find enough clues that he could usually figure out what race/horses were therein.

    Thanks, as always, for your interesting posts.

  2. Nina says:

    This is fascinating, and I’m so glad there’s a book somewhere preserving this information, so it wasn’t lost to the ages as such type of information is prone to do. I do so enjoy your blog and look forward to your 2011 posts.

  3. Leo Collins says:

    It is great to see some of these old colors being preserved. My one wish for an addition would have been George Lorillard, who had so many impressive horses. His greatest was Duke of Magenta, who won the Triple Crown of the day: Preakness, Belmont & Travers. The Duke should be in the Hall of Fame but the good old boys of today want more recent vintage – do I hear Swoon’s Son? At any rate George also raced Tom Ochiltree, Sensation, Spinaway, Monitor & Ferida to name just a few. He brought much to the sport, like his older brother Pierre, and did not run his horses into the ground.

  4. White Camry says:

    I’ve seen the August Belmont silks in the Hall-of-Fame at Saratoga. They’re identical to the British Royal silks except the gold lacing is removed.

  5. […] Colins Ghost » Color racing silks from the black and white era, 1884 He campaigned his horses at the most prestigious meets in the country and won the American Derby at Washington Park in Chicago three times, including a win in 1896 with the Emperor of Norfolk, one of his best horses. Dwyer Brothers — The Brooklyn butchers turned racing . White Camry says: January 28, 2011 at 23:52 pm. I've seen the August Belmont silks in the Hall-of-Fame at Saratoga. They're identical to the British Royal silks except the gold lacing is removed. […]

  6. jackie singer says:

    , was wondering if you knew whose racing silks were solid white w/ black arm band around the 1940`s. Thanks so much for any info. Jackie

  7. Ian Spence says:

    Hello , have been trying to find the racing colors for all winners of the Kentucky Derby , Preakness & Belmont Stakes with some success (at least for someone on the English side of the Atlantic ! ) Am now struggling with the following and wonder if any “colors historians” over there could help please.

    1868 GENERAL DUKE McConnell & Co.
    1877 CLOVERBROOK EA Clabaugh
    1890 BURLINGTON Hough Brothers
    1891 FOXFORD CE Rand
    1892 PATRON J Stuart
    1893 COMANCHE Empire Stable
    1898 SLY FOX Charles F Dwyer
    1899 JEAN BEREAUD Sydney Paget
    1902 OLD ENGLAND B Morris
    1903 AFRICANDER Hampton Stable
    1903 FLOCARLINE MH Tichenor
    1904 BRYN MAWR Goughacres Stable
    1905 CAIRNGORM Sydney Paget
    1909 JOE MADDEN Samuel Clay Hildreth
    1909 EFFENDI WT Ryan
    1912 COLONEL HOLLOWAY Beverwyck Stable
    1913 BUSKIN John Whalen
    1914 HOLIDAY Mrs A Barklie
    1915 RHINE MAIDEN EF Whitney
    1918 JACK HARE Jr WE Applegate
    1924 NELLIE MORSE HC Fisher
    1928 VITO Alfred H Cosden
    1938 PASTEURIZED Mrs Plunkett Stewart
    1952 BLUE MAN White Oak Stable
    1958 CAVAN Joseph E O’Connell
    1959 ROYAL ORBIT J Braunstein
    1960 CELTIC ASH Green Dunes Farm
    1960 BALLY ACHE Turfland
    1961 SHERLUCK Jacob Sher

    hope the list “posts” ok

  8. Amanda Barnes says:

    Wonderful silks on display here. Am currently researching Dwyer Brothers for a book about their stable. Mike Dwyer was my gt gt grandfather. So exciting to see the silks of so many of their contemporaries. Thank you for this website. Is it possible to get a copy of the Dwyer picture?

  9. Carrie Wick says:

    The hunt for the racing silks of gr gr grandfather, James S. Watson, Esq. of Valley Brook Stud Farm, New Jersey, has led to the discovery that his colors (variously described as “orange and orange” or “yellow and yellow” or even “butterscotch”) were, sometime after Watson’s death in 1872, subsequently taken up by Major T. W. Doswell (see “No. 26-T. W. Doswell” in this 1884 book on American Racing Colors).

    However, if you run across an 1860s drawing of a jockey in those yellow silks – say, perhaps, Billy Burgoyne racing Captain Moore or Aldebaran at Saratoga in August, 1863 – those colors belonged to J. S. Watson.

    Enjoy reading your racing news articles. Keep up the good work.

  10. Emily says:

    Hi there!

    I’m trying to find out more about how jockey’s wore their silks in the 1930’s. In some of the pictures I’ve seen it looks as though there is a bandage or wrap around their wrists. Did they wrap their wrist or is it just the uniform sleeves that are more form fitting around the wrist? Also, did jockeys have lots of spare silks? I’d think they would have quite a few “back ups” for the intensity of the sport. Thanks for your help!