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In-Depth: Celebrating Black heritage in Kentucky horse racing

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Posted at 8:35 AM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-22 10:43:59-05

(LEX 18) — In continuing to celebrate Black History Month throughout February, LEX 18 goes in-depth on the rich history of African American horse jockeys in Kentucky.

Black jockeys dominated thoroughbred racing in its infancy. During the first 30 years of the Kentucky Derby, more than half of the winning jockeys were black.

The list includes Oliver Lewis, who won the first derby , riding Aristides. Isaac Burns Murphy was the first black jockey to win the derby three times. He rode Buchanan in 1884, Riley in 1890, and Kingman in 1881.

The most recent black jockey was Kentucky Derby winner Jimmy Winkfield. The Kentucky native won back-to-back Runs for the Roses in 1901 and 1902.

The black community has strong ties to the Kentucky Derby, yet not much is said about these contributions. Dr. Anastasia Curwood, the Director of the African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky, says that is because of the Jim Crow laws.

The laws not only allowed segregation in the south, but fueled physical discrimination nationwide.

For example, jockey Jimmy Winkfield was the victim of an attack in 1900 that caused bruising to his leg and led to cracked ribs for his mount.

Moments like this prompted many African Americans to leave the south for cities in the north and west, which is referred to as the Great Migration. Once the dust began to settle, several black jockeys didn't return to horse racing.

More of this important conversation about the black legacy of horse racing can be explored at the Kentucky Derby Museum. The permanent exhibit showcases artifacts and artwork while sharing even more of these important history notes. It's on the first floor of the museum, located on Central Avenue in Louisville.

For more information, check out the Kentucky Derby Museum's website.