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The Great Black Jockeys
Sadly, his career was cut short at the age of 34 when he died of pneumonia.
He always had trouble staying at the light weight demanded of a jockey and was known to binge and purge. It has been speculated that it was vomit backing up in his lungs that caused the pneumonia which led to his death.
He is buried next to Man O’ War in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.Willie Simms was a superb rider of the late 19th century. He brought winning mounts to the wire 24.8% of the time.Simms was born in 1870 in Augusta, Ga., and began riding at East Coast tracks in 1887.
During his career he rode for the most prominent owners of the era, including Mike and Phil Dwyer, Richard Croker, Pierre Lorillard, August Belmont, and James R. Keene.Simms won back-to-back Belmont Stakes in 1893-94 aboard Commanche and Henry of Navarre.
He also was a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby aboard Ben Brush and Plaudit and was the only African-American jockey to win the Preakness, aboard Sly Fox in 1898.
One of Simms’ most dramatic races was a match between Dobbin and Domino in 1893. Simms and Dobbin finished in a dead heat with the previously unbeaten Domino.
Simms found great success riding the New York circuit in the 1890′s. He also briefly rode in England in 1895. Many sources credit Simms with introducing the British to the short stirrup style of riding later popularized by Tod Sloan.
Willie Simms was the nation’s leading jockey in 1894. He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1977.