"All the Best Jockeys..."
In the last decades of the 19th century, horse racing was America's great national sport and black jockeys, many from the Bluegrass region, stood at its center. It was the Gilded Age, a time of unbridled opportunity and crass exploitation when robber barons and labor strikes, railroads and skyscrapers, immigrant millions, diamond-studded dinners and corrupt politics stirred the land.
Amid the boom and upheaval, racing — popular before the Civil War, especially in the South — surged. Racetracks numbered more than 300 and drew large crowds, from sweatshop workers to nouveau aristocrats. On the same day in 1872, 40,000 people filled Monmouth Park in New Jersey, while just 300 watched a professional baseball game at a Brooklyn field. And in 1887, Congress adjourned for a match race at Pimlico in Baltimore.
Black jockeys — with a heritage of grooming, training and riding horses in Africa and in colonial times and slavery — were well prepared as freedmen to take advantage of racing's new popularity. In the 1870s, '80s and '90s, they gained national notice and considerable income from the sport. "All the Best Jockeys of the West Are Colored,' read an 1890 headline from Kentucky in Spirit of the Times, a New York sporting
weekly. Top black riders were athletic stars covered — often with a racist slant — by the New York Times, New York Herald and other leading newspapers.
Dominant in Kentucky and in the Midwest and South, black jockeys won major races across the country, including the Travers, Futurity, American Derby, Belmont, Preakness and Kentucky Derby, where they accounted for 16 of the first 28 winners. Several of their important wins came on horses trained by African Americans.
Of the scores of black jockeys then, five are in the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York: the renowned Isaac Murphy; two-time riding champions Willie Simms and Shelby"Pike" Barnes; win percentage leader Anthony Hamilton; and Jimmy Winkfield, winner of two Kentucky Derbys and later a successful rider and trainer in Europe. (Two black trainers are in the Hall of Fame: Ansel Williamson, whose Aristides won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875; and Edward Dudley Brown, a former top rider whose Baden-Baden won the 1877 Kentucky Derby.) Other prominent jockeys included riding champion James "Soup" Perkins; New York star Alonzo Clayton; Kentucky standout William Walker; and Oliver Lewis, winner of the first Kentucky Derby on Aristides.
Despite their success, black jockeys faded from racing soon after 1900. Their decline — rooted in
racism and the Jim Crow segregation it triggered — was accelerated by economic recessions; pressure and bias from white owners and riders; the first Great Migration of African Americans from southern farms to northern cities; and anti-gambling laws promoted by the rising Progressive Movement that left only 25 tracks operating by 1908. That year, in the Travers at Saratoga, Jimmy Lee became the last black jockey to win a major American race. Though a few African Americans would continue to ride, the great black jockeys were gone.
African Americans in Racing
Alonzo Allen · Dudley Allen · George "Spider" Anderson · Dale Austin · William Bird · Tom Britton · Clem Brooks · Edward Dudley Brown · James Carter · Cato Chisholm · Pete Clay · Raleigh Colston, Jr. · Raleigh Colston, Sr. · Albert Cooper · Cornelius · Austin Curtis · Clarence "Pick" Dishman · Oscar Dishman · Bob Greene · Will Harbut · Hark · Abe Hawkins · Erskine Henderson Hercules · Wallace Hicks · Babe Hurd · Theophilus Irvin, Jr. · Eli Jordon · Garrett Davis Lewis · Harry Lewis · Isaac Lewis · Marshall Coulter Lilly · Courtney Matthews · Monk Overton · William Perkins · Abraham Perry · Harry "Chippie" Ray · John Sample · Sewell · Simon · Roscoe Simpson · Charles Stewart · John "Kid" Stoval · Eddie Sweat · Phil Thompson · Albert Welch · Robert "Tiny"Williams · Ansel Williamson · Ed Willis...
The Legacy Trail
Welcome to the Legacy Trail, a 10-mile greenway that connects downtown Lexington to the Kentucky Horse Park and the rural Bluegrass. Trailheads are located at Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, where you're now standing, and at North Lexington Family YMCA, Coldstream Park and Iron Works Pike. Starting from any trailhead, you may pass neighborhoods and streets, creeks and parks, businesses and historic sites. On the trail, you'll find flag blazes and other public art, and markers that describe the landscape, history and culture of Lexington and the Bluegrass region.
The idea for the Legacy Trail began after Lexington was chosen in 2005 as the site of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. That idea became a community-wide effort to identify projects that would reflect the richness, diversity and uniqueness of our city and region and be lasting legacies of the 2010 Games, which, for the first time, were held somewhere other than Europe.
The Legacy Trail has been realized thanks to the generosity of property owners along its route; the work of scores of volunteers; and the support of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, Blue Grass Community Foundation and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.