Anthony Black

Horse Racing

Legendary jockey with over 5000 wins

It was June 15, 1970, and Tony Black had a decision to make. He could attend his graduation from Haddon Township High School. Or he could go to Liberty Bell Park to ride his very first mount, Stand By Me. “This isn’t even a decision,” Black told the horse’s trainer, Charlie Coco. “Go to graduation, hell. I’m riding my first race.” Black not only rode his first race. He won on Stand By Me, who paid a cool $106.40. Black’s father bought a few tickets on Stand By Me, figuring they would be a keepsake of his son’s first ride. After Tony got the 52-1 shot home, “We cashed them tickets,” Black said with a laugh. “I ain’t got no tickets as a memento of my first ride.” The great jockey Tony Black rode on for the next 40 years. He is one of just 37 riders in North American history to win 5,000 races. His “final” number is 5,211 wins from 33,964 mounts. On September 4, 2023, Black turned 72. He still exercises horses at Parx. He rode in a few races even after his “retirement.” His “last” ride was October 27, 2019. But he wants to ride one more winner which, he thinks, will make him the oldest to win a race. “I’m going to do it,” Black said. “I ain’t lost it totally, not physically. Now, mentally, I might have lost it a long time ago.” Black was ready to quit high school in his junior year to go the track full time and make some real money. His wrestling coach and math teacher Miller Preston implored him not to quit. The coach found a way for Black to work at the track in the morning and miss his first few classes. Tony Black did graduate, even if he did not attend graduation. “You taught me not to quit something you are supposed to finish,” Black once told Preston. “I didn’t quit high school and I didn’t quit riding for forty years.” It is for both his perseverance and accomplishments that Black has become the first Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame inductee from horse racing. “This is one winner they can never take away from me,” Black said. “Nobody else can be first.” He won a record-tying nine consecutive races over two days in 1993 between Atlantic City and Philadelphia Park (formerly Keystone, now Parx Racing). You might say he declined the opportunity to hold the record by himself. For that tenth race, Trainer Phil Aristone offered Black a chance to take off from his scheduled mount and to get on what looked like the sure winner instead. But Black insisted on riding his scheduled horse and Aristone’s easily won that tenth race. Honor won over glory. “It would have been engineered if I broke it,” Black explained. The best horse he ever rode was the great mare My Juliet. In 2019, Tony Black gave the acceptance speech when My Juliet was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY. Black rode My Juliet in the last 12 races of her 36-race career that included 24 wins, 17 in stakes races. She had been injured in May 1976. Black was entrusted by trainer Gene Euster and owner George Weasel to work with her in the mornings and to let them know when she was ready to return to racing. She was ready by October, and Black was given the mount. They won nine races together, including an unforgettable victory in the 1976 Vosburgh Handicap at Aqueduct when she beat that year’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Bold Forbes, ridden by legendary jockey Angel Cordero, Jr. “She outbroke him,” Black remembered. And then she was gone, beating the fastest males in the country, and clinching the Eclipse Award as the nation’s best sprinter. In 1996, Black was riding Devil’s Honor in the Pennsylvania Derby for his great friend, trainer Walter Reese. Formal Gold, one of the fastest horses of the 1990s, was the favorite. Black, however, knew something that Mike Smith, Formal Gold’s Hall of Fame rider, did not: The inside part of the track was like a paved highway. Black put Devil’s Honor on that highway and Formal Gold could not get by him, giving Black a win in his home track’s signature race. It is called horse racing for a reason. But jockeys do matter, especially when they are smart and prepared. Tony Black was both, from the starting gate to the finish line. by Dick Jerardi

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