When Black jockeys ruled the racetrack
JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 5/23/2013, 4:29 p.m.
At last week's running of the 139th Kentucky Derby, jockey Kevin Krigger of St. Croix hoped to the first Black jockey to win since Jimmy Winkfield did it in 1902. Krigger is the first Black jockey to race in the Derby in more than a decade. He and his mount, Goldencents, were fresh off a history-making win at the Santa Anita Derby; he is the first Black jockey to win in that race's 78-year history. Before Jim Crow, Black jockeys dominated the tracks. Today's page takes a look at three of racing's all-time greatest jockeys who just happen to be Black.
Oliver Lewis--First Kentucky Derby Winner
When the Kentucky Derby was first held in 1875 at the Louisville Jockey Club Race Track, 13 of the 15 jockeys were Black. Nineteen-year-old Oliver Lewis sat atop a mount named Aristides. Lewis' job was to help another horse, Chesapeake, gain an edge by forcing the pack to run fast and tire out so he could overtake them. Chesapeake had a history of finishing strong. The horse's owner, H. Price McGrath, had his eyes on the nearly $3,000 in prize money.
Lewis and Aristides did their part, starting strong and pulling out in front. As the race reached the final stretch, however, it was Chesapeake who lagged behind. Lewis began to slow down until McGrath urged him on. Lewis and Aristedes won the race by two lengths (the length of a horse's body). Chesapeake finished in eighth place. Lewis and his mount ran the 1.5-mile race in a record-setting two minutes and 37.75 seconds.
He took second place at the Belmont Stakes a few weeks later and won three more races at Louisville that season, but he never rode in another Kentucky Derby. Lewis later became a successful bookmaker, which, at that time, was legal. He skillfully collected data on different horses and how they performed in races. From these, he created detailed handicapping charts.
Oliver Lewis died in 1924 in Lexington, Ky.
Isaac Murphy--The Horse Whisperer
Isaac Murphy is considered by many to be the greatest jockey in the history of horse racing. He won the Kentucky Derby three times--more than any other. He was also known for talking to his mounts rather than beating them with the whip.
Isaac Burns was born on April 16, 1861, on a farm near Frankfort, Ky. After his father's death, Burns and his mother moved to Lexington to live with her father, Green Murphy. Isaac later changed his last name to Murphy in honor of his grandfather.
At the Richard and Owings Racing Stable where his mother worked, Murphy caught the eye of trainer Eli Jordan. On Sep. 15, 1875, the 14-year-old won his first race.
He began racing under the name Isaac Murphy and won 11 races at the Lexington Kentucky Association Track. By 1877, he had won 19 races. He rode in his first Kentucky Derby, coming in at fourth place and gained national attention after wining the 1879 Travers Stakes.
Murphy's first Kentucky Derby win came on May 27, 1884. That same year, he also won the American Derby in Chicago, which was, at that time, the most prestigious race in the nation. He would win it three more times, in 1885, 1886 and 1888. Murphy won the Kentucky Derby two more times, in 1890 and 1891.