African Americans in Racing

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 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.

Jimmy Winkfield

Jimmy Winkfield

Jimmy Winkfield winner of the Kentucky Derby in 1901 and 1902

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 rumored he even rode for the Czar of Russia. He became fluent in several languages before he retired with over 2300 winners to his credit. Winkfield was finally inducted in the Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2004 and in 2005 Aqueduct Racetrack in New York City renamed the Best Turn Stakes to the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, an early prep for the Kentucky Derby.

Isaac Murphy's grave at the Kentucky Horse Park
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 one of the first group of jockeys to be inducted into the Jockey Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing when it was started in 1955. 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.
Patrick Husbands
Patrick Husbands has won the Sovereign Award for Champion Jockey in Canada 7 times

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, jockey Marlon St. Julien has been very successful in the Texas and Chicago racing circuits and jockey Patrick Husbands is has been a leading jockey in Canada for several years, winning his 2000th race in 2009. Jockey DeShawn Parker, who mostly rides at Tampa Bay Downs and Mountaineer Park, was ranked first in the US by wins in 2010 and 2011.

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African-Americans were the early superstars of Thoroughbred racing

African-Americans were the early superstars of Thoroughbred racing, dominating the sport from the mid-seventeenth century to the early twentieth century. In the antebellum years, slaves were often responsible for training and caring for their owners’ horses. But as the sport of horse racing began to gain in popularity in the United States from the mid-eighteenth century onward, skilled black horsemen were highly valued as trainers and jockeys. Records indicate that even as early as the late eighteenth century, some slave jockeys actually gained their freedom as a result of their excellent riding abilities.

By the mid-19th century, black jockeys virtually ruled the profession, riding in circuits from Louisiana to New York. In 1875 at the inaugural running of the Kentucky Derby, 13 of the 15 riders were African-Americans. African-American jockey Oliver Lewis rode Aristides to a two-length victory in the first Kentucky Derby. Other notable African-American riders include Isaac Murphy, victorious in 628 races out of 1,412 in which he rode. James Perkins, better known as “Soup,” for his love of soup, began riding in 1891 at age 11 and won the 1895 Derby aboard Halma as a 15-year-old to join fellow African-American jockey Alonzo Clayton as the youngest winning riders of the race. Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton rode a horse named Redstone in his first race as a jockey in 1890. He is only one of three African-American jockeys to compete in the Preakness and he finished third in 1896. Willie Simms won two Kentucky Derbys: in 1896 aboard Ben Brush and in 1898 with Plaudit. He also was the nation’s leading jockey in 1893 and 1894 and was the first American jockey to win a race with an American horse at an English race course. He is credited with introducing the short stirrup riding style to England in the 1890’s. Jimmy Winkfield won back-to-back Kentucky Derbys in 1901 on His Eminence and 1902 on Alan-A-Dale. He was the last black jockey to win a Kentucky Derby.

Oliver Lewis Isaac Murphy
James "Soup" Perkins Alonzo "Lonnie" Clayton
Willie Simms Jimmy Winkfield

At Belair, African-Americans were an integral part of farm operations. Stallion men, shed foreman and grooms cared for the Woodward thoroughbreds. Charles and Henry Thomas worked for Belair and Charles was Nashua’s handler. Mr. Woodward’s most valued stable employee was Andrew Jackson, a former slave born in Kentucky in the late 1850s. Mr. Woodward hired Andrew in 1900 and it was his keen eye for horses that prompted Mr. Woodward to purchase Captain Hancock, the $60 stud horse, as well as the three $100 mares that essentially launched the Belair Stud. Andrew was the trainer of record for Belair’s first race victory with Aile d’Or at the Marlboro Track in 1909. When Andrew died in 1932, Mr. Woodward erected the tombstone on Andrew’s grave at the Sacred Heart Church cemetery in honor of Jackson.

Andrew Jackson in his later years

Although African-Americans were sought to ride and train race horses, they were not completely free of the racial prejudices that were prevalent in the United States at the time. The most controversial image associated with African-Americans and horse racing is the lawn jockey. Legend has it that General George Washington commissioned a statue in honor of his young black groom, Tom Graves, who held a lantern for Washington’s troops as they crossed the Delaware. Upon Washington’s return from the voyage, he found his groom frozen to death, the reins of troop horses still in his hands.

Lawn jockey

By the time of the Civil War, lawn jockeys dotted landscapes throughout the south and had multiple functions. In some instances they were used as hitching posts for horses. They also suggested that the residents of a property had money. Their most important role was as signals in the Underground Railroad. A lawn jockey holding a green ribbon represented safe passage while a red ribbon symbolized danger.

However, not all lawn jockeys were representative of good taste. Many of the black-faced statues were offensive caricatures of African-Americans, reminders of the virulent racism in the United States.

Belair had its own lawn jockey. Dressed in the Belair silks of white shirt with red polka dots, the figure was once located in the center of the courtyard behind the Stables.

Belair's lawn jockey

Today, the story of African-Americans in horse racing is being unearthed and retold to a new generation of Americans who do not know of the gloried history of America’s first great athletes.

Source: Belair Stable Museum
http://www.eagle1.american.edu/~sm1651a/design/African-Americans.html

African Americans in Racing (Jockey)

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 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.

Jimmy Winkfield
Jimmy Winkfield winner of the Kentucky Derby in 1901 and 1902

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 rumored he even rode for the Czar of Russia. He became fluent in several languages before he retired with over 2300 winners to his credit. Winkfield was finally inducted in the Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2004 and in 2005 Aqueduct Racetrack in New York City renamed the Best Turn Stakes to the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, an early prep for the Kentucky Derby.

Isaac Murphy's grave at the Kentucky Horse Park
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 one of the first group of jockeys to be inducted into the Jockey Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing when it was started in 1955. 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.
Patrick Husbands
Patrick Husbands has won the Sovereign Award for Champion Jockey in Canada 7 times

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, jockey Marlon St. Julien has been very successful in the Texas and Chicago racing circuits and jockey Patrick Husbands is has been a leading jockey in Canada for several years, winning his 2000th race in 2009. Jockey DeShawn Parker, who mostly rides at Tampa Bay Downs and Mountaineer Park, was ranked first in the US by wins in 2010 and 2011.

Source: About.com