Did you know that the history of thoroughbred racing is rich with prominent African American jockeys who made history and helped establish the sport? The new book, The First Kentucky Derby: Thirteen Black Jockeys, One Shady Owner, and the Little Red Horse That Wasn't Supposed to Win documents the early history of successful Black jockeys that have been buried in the modern world of racing. Every page explores the incredibly important contributions Black jockeys made to one of the sport’s biggest events, the Kentucky Derby (its 149th incarnation is set to take place on May 6, 2023 in Louisville, Kentucky), and how African American jockey Oliver Lewis competed against 12 other Black jockeys and steered his horse Aristides to victory in 1875.

The First Kentucky Derby: Thirteen Black Jockeys, One Shady Owner, and the Little Red Horse That Wasn't Supposed to Win
The First Kentucky Derby: Thirteen Black Jockeys, One Shady Owner, and the Little Red Horse That Wasn't Supposed to Win
Mark Shrager (Eclipse Press, May 2023)

Price: $25

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Here are four legendary Black jockeys whose legends have been cemented in the racing hall of fame—and two who should be!

Anthony Hamilton: Inducted in 2012 

Racer Anthony Hamilton was a force to be reckoned with during his heyday as a jockey in the late 19th century. Igniting the race track at age 15, Hamilton was dubbed the “Black Demon” by onlookers and went on to dominate events such as the Twin City Handicap, thanks to his superior strength and racing intuition. Hamilton later took his thoroughbred racing experiences and success overseas, entering as a jockey in countries like Hungary, Russia and Austria before his death in 1904. Hamilton went down in history as the only Black American to hold victories in the New York Handicap Triple: the Metropolitan Handicap, the Suburban Handicap and the Brooklyn Invitational Stakes. 

James “Jimmy” Winkfield: Inducted in 2004

Even today, James “Jimmy” Winkfield comes up in the conversation about history’s best jockeys. The Kentucky native took the top prize in the Kentucky Derby in successive years, 1901 and 1902, becoming the second jockey to achieve this feat. After winning over 2,000 races in his storied three-decade career, Winkfield was gifted post-mortem with a race in his name to honor his legacy. It’s no surprise that The First Kentucky Derby makes mention of Winkfield’s incredible run in the book, noting how Winkfield, a.k.a. the "Black Maestro," would mark the end of the Golden Age of Black jockeys. 

Willie Simms: Inducted in 1977 

Hailing from the state of Georgia, Willie Simms is noted as one of racing’s greatest jockeys, as he outperformed the competition with skill and sheer talent. Beginning his career in 1887, Simms went on to dominate the sport in 1893 and 1894, when records show he was ahead of all other American riders in terms of wins for the year. His horses galloped in races such as the Champagne Stakes and other highly esteemed competitions in his era. All together, Simms was victorious in over 1,000 races he competed in, cementing him as a giant in the sport. The book pays homage to all of Simm’s achievements, highlighting how his accomplishments, like his perfect record in the Run for the Roses, have yet to be matched. 

Isaac B. Murphy: Inducted in 1955 

Isaac Murphy’s intuition for racing, which began in 1876, brought him acclaim and wealth during his career. The son of a Union soldier, Murphy rose to prominence thanks to his undeniable talent when saddled on a horse. He became the first rider to win the then-fledgling Kentucky Derby three times, two of those wins consecutively, and held that record for almost four decades. As his career wound down, Murphy continued to work with horses, becoming a trainer until his death in 1896. His career is still a shining example in the racing world: the Isaac Murphy Award, established in 1995, is given to jockeys with the most wins for the year. Murphy’s praise for being “unquestionably the greatest jockey” is well-deserved in the Kentucky Derby’s formative years. 

Oliver Lewis: For your consideration 

Oliver Lewis’ name will forever be entwined with the prestigious Kentucky Derby as the competition’s inaugural winner. Just 19 years old when he entered the first established Kentucky Derby race, Lewis’ win was said to have been witnessed by thousands of people in the crowd and was over in under three minutes. The First Kentucky Derby details Lewis’ defiance against the horse trainers’ orders during the race and how the champion’s own intuition led to his stunning victory. Although he never again raced in the Kentucky Derby after its premier event, Lewis deserves to be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame for laying the foundation to make the Kentucky Derby the widely anticipated event that it is today. 

Kendrick Carmouche: For your consideration 

As The First Kentucky Derby notes the decline in the number of Black jockeys today, Kendrick Carmouche is the rare Black jockey carrying on the legacy. The Louisiana native began riding horses with his family but has since gone on to be dubbed the best rider in Philadelphia after setting an amazing four-year win streak at the former Philadelphia Park. As of 2011, Carmouche had 2,000 wins to his name and today he boasts over three thousand first-place finishes. Carmouche joined his predecessors and competed in the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 2021, becoming the first Black jockey to compete since 2013. It’s only right that the Racing Hall of Fame put Carmouche in its ranks as he continues to dominate competitions and forge more Black history in the sport.