Most Notable African American Horse Racing Jockeys
Horse racing has a long and illustrious history, but it has been plagued by discrimination and inequity.
African American jockeys are one group that has experienced substantial hurdles in the industry. And it’s a fact.
If you are a fan of horse racing, you’d notice that there aren’t many African American jockeys in the sport.
Even though watching the sport is all about the thrills and most of us are only looking at the 10 fastest Kentucky Derby times in history the lack of African American jockeys in the sport is hard to miss.
Despite being pushed away, some noteworthy African American jockeys have built a name for themselves in the sport.
Let’s highlight some African American jockeys that managed to get a name for themselves in the sport despite going against all odds.
Best African American Jockeys
Isaac Burns Murphy – The Trailblazer
Isaac Burns Murphy was one of the most successful jockeys in horse racing history, and also one of the first African American jockeys to gain widespread recognition.
Murphy was born into slavery in Kentucky in 1861 and began his racing career at the age of 14.
Over the course of his career, he won over 44% of his races, an incredible feat that has never been matched. Despite facing discrimination and segregation, Murphy became a trailblazer for African American jockeys in the sport.
Willie Simms – The International Sensation
Willie Simms was another famous African American jockey who achieved worldwide success.
Simms, who was born in South Carolina in 1870, began his racing career in the United States before traveling to England, where he won the renowned Epsom Derby in 1896.
Throughout his career, Simms endured tremendous discrimination, with many owners and trainers refusing to deal with him. His success on the track, however, aided in breaking down barriers for other African American jockeys.
Jimmy Winkfield – The Two-Time Derby Winner
Breaking racial barriers and taking the Derby by storm, Jimmy Winkfield rode his way into history as the last African American jockey to clinch the Kentucky Derby crown – not once, but twice!
Born and raised in Kentucky, Winkfield kicked off his racing career at the tender age of 15, and it wasn’t long before his gifted riding skills were the talk of the town.
But even as he continued to prove his worth on the track, the racial tensions in the industry cast a dark shadow over his dreams. Undeterred, Winkfield turned his sights to Europe where he sharpened his skills and, despite facing steep challenges, he emerged victorious as a two-time Derby winner – a testament to his tenacity and talent.
Marlon St. Julien – The Modern Trailblazer
From the muddy bayous of Louisiana to the elite racing arenas, Marlon St. Julien’s journey as an African American jockey is nothing short of inspiring.
Starting his career in the early 90s, St. Julien’s raw talent and lightning-fast reflexes earned him quite a reputation in the racing community. But it was his groundbreaking ride in the 2000 Kentucky Derby that truly made him a trailblazer.
St. Julien became the first African American jockey to ride in the Derby after almost 80 years, signaling a new era of inclusion and diversity in the sport. Though he may not have won the race, his legacy lives on, inspiring a whole new generation of jockeys to ride with passion and perseverance.
Although these riders encountered discrimination and struggle, their talent and determination propelled them to prominence in the world of horse racing.
They knocked down boundaries and paved the way for future generations of African American jockeys, and their stories are a monument to the human spirit’s endurance and perseverance.