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Diversity on the track: history of Black jockeys

Posted at 10:43 PM, Sep 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-02 22:43:48-04

(LEX 18) — The last time a Black jockey rode in the Kentucky Derby was in 2013. Since then, there hasn't been another.

But diversity on the track didn't used to be rare.

"In the very first Kentucky Derby, 1875, 13 to the 15 jockeys were African Americans, including the winner, Oliver Lewis," Chris Goodlett, the director of curatorial & educational affairs at the Kentucky Derby Museum, said. "African American jockeys went on to win 15 of the first 28 runnings of the Kentucky Derby."

A few decades later, the narrative took a turn.

"Jim Crow and segregation really impacted African American jockeys," Goodlett noted. "And firstly, the same discrimination they were facing in everyday life, they were also facing on the racetrack. So African American jockeys are very prominent to the first 25-27 years of the Kentucky Derby. But you turn to the 20th century, more urban lifestyle in America, racing is a sport that many people really absorb in their leisure time, it is very popular, it can be very lucrative. So African American jockeys or white counterparts become more interested."

Due to that change in interest and culture, Black jockeys were pushed out of the starting gate.

"You see racing governing bodies, they really stopped licensing African American jockeys on a regular basis," Goodlett said. "And also there is physical intimidation on the race track as well in the early 20th century. Jimmy Wingfield, the most recent African American jockey to win the Kentucky Derby in 1902, when he was racing outside Chicago at Ole Harlem Race Track, during the course of the race, his white counterparts would actually kind of ride him against the rail, engage in rough riding tactics that could hurt or hurt the horse. So trainers are more reluctant to ride African American jockeys.

Goodlett's goal is that visitors see the broader picture.

"I want people to see the rich stories of this industry," Goodlett said. "And I also want them to see that this industry, this sport, this event, is connected to a larger history of the United States of America."