Nearly 200 years before superstars such as Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods, Black jockeys were domintating race tracks across America and abroad. Their reign of greatness started in the 1600's and lasted nearly 300 years until the turn of the 20th century. Their legacy also traces to the early days of the Kentucky Derby were 13 of the 15 jockeys in the first Kentucky Derby were black, and African American jockeys won 15 of the first 28 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. In 1875 Olver Lewis guided Aristides to a two length victory in the inaugural running of the Kentucky Derby.
Not only did these tremendous athletes help establish Kentucky's signature industry, but when the dust finally settled, these "First Great Sports Stars" would leave their indelible mark on race tracks around the world.
17 year old William Walker, from Woodford Co., KY, won the 1877 Derby aboard Baden Baden for African American trainer Ed Brown.
George Garret Lewis guided Fonso to victory in the 1880 Kentucky Derby. He died at his home in Hutchinson-Station, KY from injuries sustained in a horse racing spill two months following his Derby victory. (No photographs available).
Babe Hurd rallied Apollo ta a half-length victory in the 1882 running of the Kentucky Derby. He later acheived fame as a steeplechase jockey. (No photograghs available)
Many consider Isaac Murphy the greatest American jockey of all time. The son of a former slave, Murphy rose to pominence in a sport that was dominated by African American jockeys at the time. He was the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby on three occasions; 1884 on Buchanan; 1890 aboard Riley; and 1891 atop Kingman. Not only was Murphy known for his skill on horseback, but he was also revered for his strict honesty and loyalty. Isaac Murphy died at his home in Lexington, KY of pneumonia at age 36 in 1896.
Erksine Henderson became the sixth African American jockey to win the Derby, as he guided Joe Cotton to victory in 1885.
17 year old Isaac Lewis rode in four consecutive Derby's between 1886-1889. He won the 13th running of the Kentucky Derby aboard Montrose.
Alonzo Clayton began his riding career at age 10, and at age 15 became the youngest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby aboard Azra in 1892.
In 1895, James & Perkins joined Alonzo Clayton as the youngest winning riders in Kentucky Derby History at age 15. He won the Derby atop a horse named Halma.
Willie Simms, a native of Augusta, GA., won on both of his Derby mounts. In 1896 he rode Ben Brush to victory, and 1898 he won with Plaudit. Willie Simms is the only African American to win all three races in the Triple Crown.
One of the most remarkable riding careers in American history was that of Jimmy Winkfield, from Chilesburg, KY. Winner of the 1901 and 1902 Kentucky Derby's, Mr. Winkfield's unbelievable journey spanned different worlds, and is possibly the greates sports story in American history. His is a story of a self-taught jockey who escaped the Bolcheviks during World War I and the Nazis during World War II. One who rode Thoroughbreds in Russia, Poland, France, Austria, Hungary, England, Spain and Itlay, earning as much as $100,000 per year in the early 20th century.
The Untold Story of America's First Great Athletes