► Shelby "Pike" Barnes led all jockeys in victories in 1888 and 1889 (Keeneland Collection)
Competing in the ancient era when African-American jockeys ruled the sport of Thoroughbred racing during the late 19th century, Shelby “Pike” Barnes was widely recognized by turf experts to be among the elite in his profession.
Born in Beaver Dam, Ky., in 1871, Barnes became a star as a teenager. In 1888, Barnes led all North American riders with 206 wins, becoming the first jockey to top 200 wins in a year. His 1888 campaign is even more remarkable considering his closest pursuer, George Covington, rode just 95 winners. Adding further context to Barnes’ exceptional year were the comparative win totals of future Hall of Fame jockeys Jimmy McLaughlin (72), Edward “Snapper” Garrison (71) and Isaac Murphy (37). Barnes also had the highest win percentage that year, booting home the winner on 32.9 percent of his mounts.
Barnes secured his status as an elite rider with his star-making performance in the inaugural Futurity in 1888. Staged by the Coney Island Jockey Club at Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, N.Y., the Futurity was the richest sporting event to date in America, paying an unheard-of $40,900. Aboard the favorite Proctor Knott, Barnes battled future Hall of Famer Salvator and jockey Tony Hamilton in the six-furlong sprint for 2-year-olds. Barnes and Proctor Knott dug in during the stretch and secured a half-length victory in one of the most notable races of the 19th century.
Barnes repeated as North America’s leading jockey in 1889 with 170 wins (25.7 percent) from 661 mounts. That year, Barnes won the Travers Stakes aboard Long Dance and the Champagne Stakes with June Day.
In 1890, Barnes piloted Burlington to victories in the Belmont Stakes and the Brooklyn Derby. That summer, he also captured the Alabama Stakes with champion Sinaloa II. He added another major score in 1891 when he rode the standout Tenny to victory in the Brooklyn Derby.
Barnes rode for several of the top owners of his day, including James Ben Ali Haggin, Marcus Daly and Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin. Other major victories for Barnes included the First Special (1891), Flash Stakes (1888), Great Western Stakes (1888), Hyde Park Stakes (1888), Latonia Derby (1888), Latonia Oaks (1889), Kenner Stakes (1889), Second Special (1890), Sheridan Stakes (1890), St. Leger Stakes (1888), and the United States Hotel Stakes (1890).
Barnes began to fade from the scene after 1891 and died at age 37 in Columbus, Ohio, in 1908. In a letter to the National Museum of Racing, Hall of Fame trainer Fred Burlew ranked Barnes as one of the top five African-American jockeys in the history of the sport.
Shelby "Pike" Barnes was inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in 2011.
► Shelby "Pike" Barnes aboard Tenny (NMR Collection)