Twitter icon
Facebook icon

William B. Duke

William B. Duke
Induction Year: 
1857, Wellsville, N.Y.
Jan. 26, 1926
Career Years: 

Tab Wrapper


William Duke enjoyed tremendous success as a trainer overseas in England and France and soared to the top of the sport in America late in his career.


Duke began working with trotters before turning his focus to thoroughbreds in 1887 when he formed a partnership with owner Enoch Wishard. In 1895, they ventured to England with a string of 10 horses and enjoyed moderate success. Englishman Sir John Thursby was impressed by Duke and hired him as his head trainer.


After several years working for Thursby, Duke moved to France and received his big break when he was named as the private trainer for William K. Vanderbilt, a grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt and one of the wealthiest men in the world. Money was never an issue with Vanderbilt — he owned an estate on Long island with 110 rooms and 45 baths — which he demonstrated by spending lavishly to acquire the best racing stock. With Duke heading the stable, Vanderbilt topped all owners in France in purse earnings in 1906, 1908, 1909, 1910, and 1911. Duke led the list in earnings among trainers each of those years.


Duke won four editions of the French Derby for Vanderbilt with Maintenon (1906), Seasick (1908), Negofol (1909), and Tchad (1919). He also trained Vanderbilt’s undefeated Prestige, as well as Northeast, Brumelli, and Oversight.


When Vanderbilt died in 1920, Duke became the first trainer for the Aga Khan, who was the top owner in France in earnings in 1924, the year Duke won his fifth French Derby with the Aga Khan-owned Pot au Feu.


Duke returned to America at the age of 68 in 1925 to train for Gifford Cochran, who had inherited an estate reported to be worth $12 million. That year, Duke won the Preakness Stakes with Coventry and the Kentucky Derby with Flying Ebony (the Preakness was run prior to the Derby that year). Both horses were owned by Cochran. Duke became the first trainer to win both the Derby and Preakness in the same year with different horses. Duke also added a victory in the Travers Stakes that summer with Dangerous, another horse owned by Cochran.


The 1925 season capped a remarkable career for Duke. He died after a brief illness in January 1926.