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5 Famous Black Jockeys Who Were in Dominant Horse Races


Black jockeys dominated the sport in its early years before racial segregation laws were enforced to push them out. Consequently, their achievements were forgotten and not recognized by the white establishment. 

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However, with the admission of the impact of racism on black people, the contributions of jockeys of African history are increasingly being acknowledged. This article looks at famous black jockeys.

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Isaac Burns Murphy

Isaac Burns Murphy is one of the most famous black jockeys in the history of the sport. He was the first African-American to win the Kentucky Derby three times. He picked up horse racing because his mother worked at a stable. 

Throughout his career, Isaac Burns Murphy won 628 races. At the peak of his career, the rider reportedly earned $15,000 to $20,000. In 1955, Isaac Burns Murphy was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.

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James Perkins

Perkins began working with horses when he was nine. Two years later, he started racing in them. His love of soup earned him the moniker ‘Soup’. His major race wins include the Kentucky Derby and the Phoenix Stakes. He recorded other major wins and was one of America’s top black jockeys. 

At the height of his career, James Perkins reportedly earned $10,000 annually. However, his career came to a sad end. He lost control of his weight and his troubles with the law saw his career end. 

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James Winkfield

James Winkfield competed in four Kentucky Derbies, won two, and was the last black jockey to win the event. According to reports, he won between 160 and 220 races in 1901 alone. 

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His career in the United States was under threat after he switched the owner he wanted to race for. Nonetheless, James Winkfield got an opportunity to race in Russia and was very successful. He won the: 

  • Russian Oaks.
  • Russian Derby.
  • Warsaw Derby. 
  • Czar Prize.

Due to the Russian Revolution, he went to France, where he was widely respected. After his career, James Winkfield was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2004.

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Oliver Lewis

His victory at the Kentucky Derby made him one of the most famous black jockeys. Oliver Lewis was the first African-American to achieve this feat riding on his Aristide. Additionally, he set an American record, having won by two lengths. 

He also competed in the Belmont Stakes and finished second. To honor his accomplishments, Lexington, Kentucky named one of its extensions the Oliver Lewis Way. 

Willie Simms

Willie Simms was the first African-American to win the U.S. Triple Crown, which consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes

He began his racing career in 1887 and popularized the current crouching posture. His white competitors made fun of his racing style but after Willie Simms became successful, they adopted it. 

By 1895, he was among the elite black jockeys and earned just as much as white horse racers. At the end of his career, Simms had 1,125 victories. Willie Simms was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Black jockeys demonstrated that they are just as good as white jockeys. Had they not been alienated from the sport, chances are they would be dominating it today.

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