They can be ostentatious, mystery or as plain as black and white. For centuries, silk have been worn by rider, allowing owners, easy identification while adding color and pageantry whenever horses engaged in racing.
Today, acrodynamic silks allow owners, trainers and fans to easily track tightly-packed Thoroughbreds exceeding 35 miles per hour.
That’s just what Nero may have wanteded when one of his horses competed in chariot races in the first century. He was so fond of his green colors that he frequently wore a green toga when he attended the races.
Nearly 1500 years later England, King Henry VIII’s records mentions “doublets (shirts) of Bruges Satin for the boys that runne the geldings and ryding cappes of Black Satin lyned with black vellute (velvet).”
Silk though expensive was used for Jockys’ jackets and caps because of it’s light weight and soft, smooth texture. Velvet was also used through the first half of the century. in 1762 in England and in 1766 in Pennsylvania, silks became official equipment. nineteen members of the English Jockey Club me on October 4th, 1762, at Newmarket to register owners’ silks “for the greater convenience of distinguishing the horses in running.
Just four years later on the other side of the Pond, Philadelphia horsemen registered their silks with the Philadelphia Jockey Club, one of the first to comply in the colonies was Lewis Morris, Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who registered his yellow colors.
Over the years, Silks became the norm in Thoroughbred racing. In October, 1826, riders were required to wear a silk jacket and cap for a three-day meet held in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1894, the American Jockey Club began registering silks, annually for $1 or lifetime for $25.
The New York Racing Association keeps 3,500 silks and ships them track to track from Aqueduct to Belmont to Saratoga and then back to Belmont again.
Silks have featured vegetables, punctuation marks, musical notes, instruments, geometric figures, racetracks, race equipment and a wide assortment of animals, including birds, dogs, foxes, horses and even an elephant. Who would use a punctuation mark on a silk? Well, the question mark used by Sez Who Thoroughbreds seems pretty clever and is certainly easy to spot.
Other silks are imprinted on our memory through the incredible amount of success an owner has had over the years: the pure black silks and cherry cap of the Ogden Phipps family, Claiborne Farm’s orange silks and orange cap; Dogwood Stable’s green with yellow dots; the royal blue and orange ball of Michael Tabor; Barry Schwartz’s black and white;
Augustin Stable’s white and green halves; Live Oak Plantation’s white and red dots; Godolphin’s royal blue and Darley Stable’s maroon and white sleeves. Perhaps the most famous of all was Calumet Farm’s devil’s red and blue.
Many famous silks are displayed in the National Mu-seum of Racing Hall of Fame right across Union Avenue from the main gate of Saratoga Race Course. More recent-ly, the New York Racing Association’s renovation of the jockey’s quarters at Saratoga allow fans to see all the silks on display.
It’s a festival of colors. Thoroughbred racing wouldn’t be the same without them.