Known in contemporary accounts as “Old Ansel,” the exact dates of this legendary trainer’s career have been lost. Williamson conditioned Aristides, winner of the inaugural Kentucky Derby, as well as dozens of other well-known racehorses of the 19th century.
Williamson was born a slave in Virginia in the early years of the 19th century. Out of this humble beginning came a trainer whose superb horsemanship was known throughout the South. During a career that saw considerable change in racing and in American history, Old Ansel initially trained horses for three-mile heat races. After the Civil War, he was a free man training horses for the increasingly popular dash race. The first clear record of Williamson’s training expertise comes from the 1850s, when he trained for his owner, T.G. Goldsby, of Alabama. Williamson conditioned the horse Brown Dick for major victories in New Orleans, Charleston, Atlanta, and Mobile. He was later sold to A. Keene Richards for whom he trained Australian and Glycera. In 1864, Williamson was purchased by R.A. Alexander, owner of the great Woodburn Stud in Midway, Ky. After he was freed, Old Ansel remained with Alexander and conditioned a series of excellent racehorses, including undefeated runners Norfolk and Asteroid.
Williamson later trained for H.P. McGrath and sent out Tom Bowling to win 14 out of 17 races, including the Travers, Jersey Derby, and Dixie. In 1875, he also trained Aristides, the first Kentucky Derby winner, as well as Calvin, winner of the Belmont Stakes.
Other notable horses trained by Old Ansel include Merrill, winner of the 1866 Travers; Virgil, Hindoo’s sire; Aaron Pennington; Chesapeake; and Susan Ann. Important races won by Williamson include the Kentucky Derby, Belmont, Travers, Jerome, Phoenix, and Withers.
Williamson was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1998.