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African-Americans in Racing
Oliver Lewis
Oliver Lewis rider of the first Kentucky Derby winner Aristides

The accomplishments of African-American horsemen in the early years of the sport are often forgotten, but in the years between the Civil War and the turn of the century, they were very influential. In the first Kentucky Derby Aristides was trained by African-American Ansel Williamson and guided to

Jimmy Winkfield
Jimmy Winkfield winner of the Kentucky Derby in 1901 and 1902
victory by Oliver Lewis, one of 15 black jockeys in that race. Over all, 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derbys were won by black jockeys and 5 were trained by black trainers.

After the turn of the century, racing started to be a higher profile sport, and blacks were mostly seen only as stable help. The last black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, Jimmy Winkfield who won in both 1901 and 1902, left the US for Europe and a lucrative racing career where it is rumoured he even rode for the Czar of Russia. He became fluent in several languages before he retired with over 2300 winners to his credit.

Isaac Murphy's grave at the Kentucky Horse Park
Isaac Murphy
Isaac Murphy who won 44% of all his races
Most famous of the black jockeys by far is Isaac Murphy who is considered one of the greatest riders in American history. He was the first jockey to win three Kentucky Derbys and won an astonishing 44% of all races he rode. That record has not been approached by any other jockey since. He was the first jockey to be inducted into the Jockey Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing. Sadly, his career was cut short at the age of 34 when he died of pneumonia. He always had trouble staying at the light weight demanded of a jockey and was known to binge and purge. It has been speculated that it was vomit backing up in his lungs that caused the pneumonia which led to his death. He is buried next to Man O' War in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

Here are a few other prominent black horsemen of the 1800's:

Ed Brown Alonzo Clayton James Perkins Willie Simms
Ed Brown who trained 1877 Kentucky Derby winner Baden-Baden Alonzo Clayton who won the Kentucky Derby at only 15 years of age James Perkins who also won the Derby at only 15 Willie Simms who won the Derby twice and each of the Triple Crown races at least once.

In recent years, African-Americans have started coming back into the mainstream of racing. MC Hammer had the successful Oaktown Stable which raced the excellent filly Lite Light, winner of the Kentucky Oaks and other prestigious races. Barry Gordy of Motown fame has also had some success with his horses. More recently, the young jockey Marlon St. Julien has been very successful in the Texas and Chicago racing circuits. However, there is still a long way to go before the old prejudices die so young jockeys can get a fair chance at a career in racing despite the advances made by black owners and trainers.

Here are some links to some interesting articles on the web:

Photographs by author or from the author's collection.

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