"The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports"
The 140th Kentucky Derby takes place today.
Some fans of the Kentucky Derby know that African American jockeys were quite successful in the early days of the race. But very few know that the trainer of the first winner Aristides in 1875 was former slave Ansel Williamson.
Aristides was ridden by jockey Oliver Lewis, also an African-American. In fact, African-Americans dominated horse racing, America’s longest, continuous sporting event.
Once upon a time the Kentucky Derby was a Black thang. African-Americans once dominated the horse racing game so thoroughly between the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century that when the first Kentucky Derby was run in 1875 thirteen of the fifteen jockeys at the starting line were African-American. The dominance of the sport also extended to and included African-American horse owners, trainers, exercise riders and stable hands.
The next two Derby winning trainers — James Williams and Ed Brown — were also black. Black athletes dominated horse racing for the next three decades, winning 15 of the first 28 Derbies.
Sooooooooo, what happened? Whites resented the jockeys, who were bringing in big salaries, and also couldn’t deal with the fact that Blacks were dominating what was, in the nineteenth century, America’s national pastime.
Klan intimidation, collusion to deny Black jockeys and trainers work and access to US tracks were factors as well. In addition the mass migration of African-Americans from the farms of the South to northern cities combined to ethnically cleanse horse racing of its African-American presence by the turn of the early 20th century.
Black jockeys also faced intimidation from white jockeys. The racing establishment never banned African-American jockeys but they turned a decided blind-eye to racism. What are the results? An African-American hasn’t won the Kentucky Derby in over a century.
Today, jockeys and trainers from Latin America dominate the sport.
The top 10 jockeys, based on earnings by the horses they rode (mounts) in the United States in 2010, include the following Latinos: Ramón A. Domínguez (1,474 starts, $16,911,880); John R. Velázquez (1,192 starts, $16,743,328 horses’ earnings); Joel Rosario (1,335 starts, $15,897,538); Rafael Bejarano (1,292 starts, $14,225,120); Javier Castellano (1,243 starts, $13,037,706); Martín García (933 starts, $10,151,584); José Lezcano (1,054 starts, $9,277,682).
Of course, owners take 60% of the earnings from winnings. And most owners are still rich white men.
The owners of the horses are more often otherwise anonymous extraordinarily rich Southerners than they are urbane self-made millionaires. They have money because their fathers had money and he had money because his father had money and so on until you think there might be a father who owned somebody else’s father. They are the unknown rich, without whom, there is no horse racing. Yet, they are almost never the featured player in the media’s coverage of the event.
(The Montreal Review, Fox News Latino, Trans Griot, ESPN)