True Pioneers

by Ed Meyer

posted on August 25, 2008 in Educational Articles, Horse Racing | No Comments >>

Many sports have had barriers that have broken down over the decades. It only makes sense, but some things just seemed to take a little more time.

For decades, African American riders and trainers dominated racing. They won major stakes, and laid the groundwork for what would become a national pastime. This past Saturday marked the 100-year anniversary of the last major stake won by a black jockey. An entire century has passed, and the mention of the early pioneers of racing has become a footnote.

Jimmy Lee was the last black rider to win the Travers. It was 1908. What a long time to forget about the founding athletes who made our game great. Black rider accomplishments spanned decades, and nations around the globe. They even dominated the sport throughout slavery and after the Civil War.

The first Kentucky Derby was booted home by Oliver Lewis in 1875. He was one of 13 black riders in the race (out of a total of 15 riders). Of the first 28 Derbies, 15 were won by black jockeys. Only three black riders are in the Racing Hall of Fame. Issac Murphy, the son of a slave, was one of the best riders ever. His winning percentage was 44% and he won three Kentucky Derbies.

The times have changed, and as with all sports, there became barriers. There could not be a separate league, and in 1975 there were only 10 black jockeys competing. Today, black riders can be seen at varied tracks, but the overall number is very small. African Americans can be seen competing in every sport around the globe. But for the sport of kings, they have become a rare member of the game. Racing has become an event, one that is filled with excitement. But once upon a time, there were true pioneers who made this game a sport which is enjoyed around the world.