- Steven P. Savage
William Simms (better known as Willie) was born in Augusta, Georgia, the son of former slaves. Enticed by racing silks as a boy, he ran away from home to become a jockey. He worked for C. H. Pettingill's stable in New York for two years, until trainer Con Leighton “discovered” him riding in Clifton, New Jersey, in 1887.
For Simms's first important race, Leighton assigned him to ride the two-year-old Banquet, a 20-1 underdog, in the 1889 Expectation Stakes. Banquet defeated both the favorite, Bellisarius, ridden by Edward “Snapper” Garrison, and Banquet's preferred stablemate, Chaos. Later, at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, Simms guided Chaos, now a 30-1 underdog, to victory over favored Banquet. Freelancing in 1891, Simms enjoyed great success at Saratoga. In 1892P. J. Dwyer hired Simms who won the Champion Stakes aboard Lamplighter After signing with the Rancocas Stable later ...
A version of this article originally appeared in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience.