A chestnut colt was born in Kentucky during the spring of 1882. The well-known horseman A. J. Alexander had arranged King Alfonso's romantic meeting with the imported mare Inverness eleven months earlier. King Alfonso was already heralded as the sire of 1880 Kentucky Derby winner Fonso and his rival Grenada. This latest colt was given the name Joe Cotton, after a bookie, and purchased for the racing stable of J. T. Williams.1

         |                  |                 | King Tom by Harkaway 
         |                  | Phaeton         |                         
         |                  |                 | Merry Sunshine by Storm      
         | King Alfonso     |                 |                            
         |                  |                 | Vandal by Glencoe       
         |                  | Capitola        |                           
         |                  |                 | Mare by Margrave
Joe Cotton -----------------------------------------------------------  
         |                  |                 | Sweetmeat by Gladiator        
         |                  | Macaroni        |
         |                  |                 | Jocose by Pantaloon
         | Inverness        |                 | 
         |                  |                 | Faugh-a-Ballagh by Sir Hercules   
         |                  | Elfrida         |     
         |                  |                 | Espoir by Liverpool   

Trained by Alex Perry, Joe Cotton began his career as a two-year-old. His early performances were good enough to put him in the 1885 Kentucky Derby as the favorite. Jockey Erskine "Babe" Henderson, who had finished ninth on the Pat Malloy colt in 1882 and seventh on Chatter in 1883, was picked to ride Joe Cotton. Owner Williams was making his third attempt in the Derby, having previously started Vera Cruz (1877) and Bob Miles (1884) who each finished fourth.2

On May 14, the track was good at Churchill Downs under partly cloudy afternoon skies as ten Thoroughbreds lined up at the start.3 Joe Cotton carried 110 pounds. At the signal, Favor was away first. Joe Cotton had a poor start and was far behind the leaders during the first mile. Henderson patiently waited for the other horses to tire, then urged Joe Cotton to the front at the head of the homestretch. Just before the finish, Bersan and Ten Booker made desperate dashes "with tremendous speed," nearly upsetting the favorite. Bersan crossed the line only a neck behind Joe Cotton, with Ten Booker just half a length further back. The winning time was 2:37 1/4. Joe Cotton earned $4630 and Babe Henderson became the sixth African-American jockey to win the Derby in its first eleven runnings. The complete order of the finish was: Joe Cotton, Bersan, Ten Booker, Favor, Irish Pat, Keokuk, Clay Pate, Thistle, Playfair, and Lord Coleridge (owned by 1884 winner William Cottrill).2

Besides the Kentucky Derby, Joe Cotton won the Great Western Handicap, Coney Island Derby, Tidal Stakes, Himyar Stakes, Straus Stakes, Tennessee Derby, Cottrill Stakes, Farewell Stakes, Average Stakes, Twin City Handicap, and Welters Stakes in his third year. He was second in the Nursery Stakes and Post Stakes; third in the Hyde Park Stakes, Clark Stakes (Bersan won), and Fourth of July Handicap; and fourth in the Travers Stakes. Joe Cotton was voted the champion three-year-old of 1885. Overall, Joe Cotton ran 54 races and won 17 of them, earning almost $30000.4,5 Unfortunately, he is not well remembered today as either a racer or a sire.

1. The Blood Horse, http://tcm.bloodhorse.com
2. http://www.kentuckyderby.com
3. http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lmk/climate/derby.txt
4. http://www.tbcprojects.com/career
5. http://www.fortunecity.com/marina/commodity/1881/files11.html

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