Black Horsemen in Thoroughbred Racing [PHIL-OSOPHY]
I was a teenager growing up in charming Hot Springs, Arkansas, home of Oaklawn Park and the Arkansas Derby, when I first fell in love with those majestic thoroughbred racehorses you see galloping down the turf at the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
Most of you probably are not aware that African American jockeys actually laid the foundation for horseracing in this country, a fact that's received very little recognition until the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs created an educational exhibit that honors the legacy and vital role that Black horsemen played in shaping American horseracing history before the Jim Crow era pushed them out.
Thirteen of the 15 riders in the first Derby were Black. In truth, Black jockeys won 15 of the Derby's first 28 outings. Place that pride side by side with the fact that Black people weren't allowed to attend the Kentucky Derby, from its first running on May 17, 1875, when African American jockey Oliver Lewis crossed the finish line, riding the horse Aristides.
It's heartbreaking and such a sad commentary on American life, to think that horseracing is the only instance where the participation of Blacks virtually stopped while the sport continued. But starting this year, an extension to the Kentucky Museum's longtime permanent exhibit honoring African Americans opened, titled African Americans in Thoroughbred Racing, as an educational program where tens of thousands of young people will tour and discover the rich Black heritage in horseracing, and the profound, immeasurable impact African Americans had on the sport.
At the museum you'll meet many of the early forerunners that made horseracing, like Isaac Murphy, born enslaved, and considered one of the most successful jockeys of all time, nabbing 44 percent of his races and winning three Kentucky Derby races. Murphy comes to life as a costumed professional actor depicts the true stories that have been longing to be told, about the incredible victories and crushing defeats, and the transcendence that horseracing provided, as Blacks struggled for equality on and off the racetrack.
During Murphy's reenactment, he educates you about how Blacks dominated the race tracks across the nation "until they kicked us out."
This pre-eminent educational program and tour, not that long ago, would have been considered a long shot. But we are in 2021, and this runner pays off big odds. The best "tip" I can give you is to check out derbymuseum.org.
Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.