African American Jockeys at the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby brings the rich history every year, along with forecast watching, hat shopping and recreational hinder and African- American jockeys played an important role in early American Kentucky Derby history.  The history of the African-American jockeys and Kentucky Derby are tangled.  The Churchill Down and the Derby owe these men a great deal as they helped the America to shape the greatest race. In the first Derby, 13 riders won out of 15 horses in Derby’s first twenty-eight running.

But, today Thoroughbreds are led by jockeys on the race track are mostly Latino and White. In the early days of the Kentucky Derby, African-American jockeys dominated. At the first Kentucky Derby which was held in the year 1875, there was only one white rider, and the race was won by Aristides and the rider was Oliver Lewis. However, according to the experts, the decline of African-American jockeys in the Kentucky Derby and other Thoroughbred racing is tangled to the history of the US economy and race in the United States.

Teresa Genaro, a territory writer and also the founder of Brooklyn Backstretch once said that the dominance of African-American jockeys were a consequence of antebellum traditions. During the period of slavery, the confined people used to take care of the horses at agricultural estates.  She also said that, earlier, the generation after generation, the young African-American grew up with horses, and they use to ride horses confidently. In those days, the white people and slave owners use to put the people that they really trusted as an in charge of their horses, as these horses are required for the plantations and they are very expensive as well.

When the slavery ended after decades, the African-American jockeys stayed important in riding, racing 15 winners among the first 28 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. Some of these jockeys become famous, including James (Jimmy) Winkfield and Isaac Burns Murphy.

But the decline of the economy after the Civil War in the south and the ending of slavery have changed the lives of African-American jockeys.

Genaro said that the white people started feeling threatened as they have a generation of African-American horsemen who had never seen or know about slavery.  The Derby Museum guardian Chris Goodlett said that even some white jockeys threatened African-American jockeys physically on the track.  Winkfield had experienced this kind of physical threatening on the track while racing.

Goodlett also said that he had seen incidents of white jockeys rounding up Winkfield during the race, and they pushed him closer to the rail while riding the horse, which might have hurt the horse and hurt him as well.  He said when the riders are ganging up, the owners and trainers do not show any concerns on the rider.

However, due to the Jim Crow Laws rise in the South, which encouraged many African-American to travel north, and there they started working on farms and factories, and the new generation grew up in the cities without any knowledge of horses since the support of African-Americans to horse racing was totally forgotten.



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