Pageantry, fashion and drama. Saturday’s horse racing Super Bowl, a.k.a, the Kentucky Derby, is sure to deliver it all. Between the mint juleps, fancy hats and zany horse names, there’s some history that might catch your eye too.
Kendrick Carmouche will be the first Black jockey to compete in the Derby since President Obama was in office. Back in 2013, it was Kevin Krigger eyeing history, and breaking a 13 year dry spell for Black jockeys in the iconic race. Now, Carmouche will try to do something even Krigger couldn’t achieve—winning the whole thing.
Carmouche’s passion for horse racing is a family affair. He told the New York Times he learned the ropes from his father Sylvester, who won nearly 700 major races before having his license revoked for cheating allegations.
However, Kendrick has brought a new luster to the family name, with more than 3,400 career victories and a steady climb up the national rankings. He’s also made a ton of money, ranking No. 8 nationally in earning power amongst jockeys.
Carmouche will start from the 20th post of Saturday’s 147th Run for the Roses, riding a brown colt named Bourbonic, and carrying a forgotten legacy of Black jockeys before him.
While you don’t see many Black men riding through Churchill Downs today, they used to dominate the sport, winning 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derbies. The last one to win was Jimmy Wakefield in 1902, a back-to-back champion.
According to historian Pellom McDaniels III, Black jockey’s skill with horses back then could be credited to the tragic circumstances from which they were born into; slavery. Many grew up having to take care of the horses on their plantations. It gave them a competitive advantage on the racetrack.
But, as has so often been the case in other arenas, Black excellence came to be seen as a threat to White supremacy in the sport. The Jim Crow era dawned, and these dominant Black jockeys were pushed out. It fueled a marginalization that ruptured through bloodlines.
Now, seeing jockeys who look like Carmouche is perhaps the rarest of sights. And that’s why his presence in the 2021 Kentucky Derby is so powerful.
Who better to reaffirm the excellence of the Black men before him than a jockey who shines amid doubts? It was just a few weeks ago when he rode to victory in the Wood Memorial, galloping over 72-1 odds. He is three years removed from a vicious leg break.
Who better to emphasize the courage of our trailblazers than a man who led a protest, kneeling with other jockeys for Black lives?
Who better to assert our ancestor’s zeal than a rider who organized a moment of silence for victims of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Saturday is a display of the power of the Black jockey. It’s a shared power across multiple industries and professions, and it’s important for the entire world to witness it.
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Joane Amay is the Beauty and Style Director at Ebony magazine. A hoarder of shoes, baubles and sparkly things, she dreams one day of owning her own private island.