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 dominated the field. Blacks held key positions, from jockeys to trainers to racing stable owners. Overall, 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derby winners were riden by black jockeys and 5 were trained by black trainers.
The early 1900’s witnessed a mass exodus of African Americans out of the sport largely due to segregation and Jim Crow laws. Today, African-Americans still just make up a small fraction of the riding community, despite their illustrious history and accomplishments.
Notable African Americans in horse racing history include:
Oliver Lewis was the first winner of the inaugural ‘Run for the Roses’ on the winning horse, Aristides, on May 17, 1875. On that day, Lewis raced against a field of 15 competitors, only one of which was white.
Isaac Murphy was the first jockey to win three Kentucky Derbies in 1884, 1890 and 1891. Murphy won 628 of his 1,412 starts during his career, a 44% victory rate that has never duplicated by any American jockey since.
Jimmy Winkfield was the second back-to-back winning jockey of the Kentucky Derby. Winkfield raced in four consecutive derbies placing third, first, first and second respectively. Winkfield left the US for Russia, rode for the Czar of Russia and continued his riding in England, France, Spain, Poland, Austria and Hungary.
Ed Brown trained 1877 Kentucky Derby winner Baden-Baden. One of the most successful trainers of championship horses in derby history.
Alonzo Clayton was the youngest Kentucky Derby winner at age 15 in 1892.
James Perkins was one of the two youngest jockeys, along with Alonzo Clayton to win the Kentucky Derby. Perkins was 15 years old in 1895 when he won the Derby riding Halma.
Willie Simms is the only African American jockey to win all three of the Triple Crown events. He is also the first American jockey to win at an English race course with an American horse and is also known for teaching the short stirrup style of riding to English racers. Simms won over 1,100 races during his 14 year career.
Marlon St. Julien in 2000 was the first African American jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby in 79 years.
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