SilksModern race fans are able to follow a horse's progress during a race through the use of some relatively new inventions:the race program, television monitors, the number on the horse’s saddle cloth and the track announcer's call.
But when horse racing first began in the early 18th century, there were no such things as program numbers, public address systems or closed-circuit television systems. So when King Charles II of England first assembled race meets on the plains of Hempstead, the dukes and the barons had trouble figuring out which horse was which. So, they adopted racing silks - or COLORS - to distinguish their jockeys for easier viewing.
Today, jockey silks are more colorful than when racing was really considered the "Sport of Kings." Photo: Churchill DownsDuring the time of King Charles II, the silks were simple -- red for one duke, black for another duke, orange for one earl, white for another earl,* and so on.
The tradition of the silks remains today as jockeys wear the colors of the horse owners, but because there are so many owners, silks have become even more colorful.
Some of the most famous silks are the devil's red and blue of Calumet Farm, worn by the jockeys of Kentucky Derby winners Citation, Whirlaway and Ponder and Allen Paulson's star-spangled red-white-and-blue colors, carried by the champion racehorse Cigar.
The jockeys' room at Churchill Downs houses hundreds of silks which are hung on pegs in the order of each jockey's races for that day. You can see a sampling each racing day by watching the jockeys as they enter the paddock ready to meet their mounts.
Article and photo courtesy of Churchill Downs
*Hierarchy of titles for nobility et al.
PRINCE (son or grandson of a king or queen
DUKE (British nobleman holding the highest hereditary title outside the royal family)
MARQUIS (Nobleman ranking next below a duke)
EARL/COUNT (Called count for a time after the Norman conquest. The wife of an earl or count is a countess)
BARON (A member of the lowest grade of nobility)
BARONET (Ranks below the barons and is made up of commoners, designated by Sir before the name and Baronet, usually abbreviated Bart., after)
Enjoy the races. I might pick the "winners" by their colors! I hear they have added Sapphire Blue to the silks this year and that there will be 19 horses in the race.