From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Cato (slave jockey) [Grey Eagle v Wagner]

On Monday, September 30, 1839, the infamous race between the Virginia-bred horse Wagner and the Kentucky-bred horse Grey Eagle took place at the Oakland Course in Louisville, KY, for a purse of $14,000.

Grey Eagle was a four-year old owned by hemp dealer Alfred Lawrence Shotwell of Louisville and ridden by Stephen Welch, a white jockey who weighed 83 pounds. Grey Eagle had run the fastest two miles in the United States.

Wagner, a five-year old owned by John Campbell of Maryland was ridden by Cato, a slave jockey owned by John Campbell.

The race was set for the best of three four-mile heats. Bets between individuals were made in dollars and slaves.

It was estimated that there were over 10,000 people in attendance to witness Wagner win two heats back-to-back and be declared the overall winner. A new record of 7:44 was set in the second heat.

Fans still wanted the opportunity to prove Grey Eagle's winning ability, so it was agreed that another race would take place on the same course in five days. Wagner was again the victor.

Grey Eagle was injured during the competition and never raced again. Cato, the slave jockey, was given his freedom in exchange for the victories. He continued racing as a jockey for John Campbell.

For more see "Some Great Races," chapter three in The American Turf, by J. H. Davis [available full-text at Google Books; and Black Maestro, by J. Drape.

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NKAA Source: Black maestro: the epic life of an American legend
NKAA Source: The American turf

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“Cato (slave jockey) [Grey Eagle v Wagner],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 14, 2024,

Last modified: 2020-09-25 16:51:45