The First Kentucky Derby 1875
Beginning in 1872, Merriweather Lewis Clark, grandson of famed Lewis Clark began cementing his idea of opening a racehorse track in America after visiting England. It was his uncles, John and Henry Churchill who secured the land for his race track. Thus, the name Churchill Downs. On 17 May 1875, the track opened for the first race of three-year-old thoroughbreds to be running on the 1 1/2 mile track. Later this was shortened to a 1 1/4 mile track. For over 145 years Kentucky Derby has been the grandest of all horse racing with all its pomp and traditions.
The first Kentucky Derby Race would go down in history and it was won by an African American jockey, Oliver Lewis, 19 years old. The prize for first place was $2850. and second place paid $200. Fast forward to 2019 when the prize purse was $3 million dollars! The crowd around that time at the track was over 160,000.
The Kentucky Derby held in Lexington, Kentucky annually on the first Saturday of May. The Derby brings economic stimulus to the area from ticket sales, hotel rooms, gift shops, entrance fees, club fees, betting slips, programs, and jobs related to the Derby. Betting in 2012 topped $187 million dollars
Mint Juleps and Parade of Hats
It would be a Kentucky Derby without the mint juleps and gorgeous hats strolling around. And, surprise, there is a $1000. a mint julep served at the Derby and for that, you get a drink served in a gold-plated cup with a silver straw made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, mint imported from Ireland, spring water ice-cubes from Bavaria, and sugar from Australia. Proceeds from the sale of these special drinks support charitable causes for retired racehorses.
The hats the ladies wear cost hundreds of dollars and take weeks to make. Most of the ladies attempt to coordinate the colors to their outfits.
Garland of Roses for the Winner
Over 400 roses are hand sewn onto a green satin cloth, weighing forty pounds. In the center is a 'rose' crown with a single rose pointing up symbolizing the heart and struggle to reach the Winners Circle of the Kentucky Derby.
The Forgotten History of the Early Jockeys of the Derby
A perfect fit for the slaves freed after the Civil War was to groom and handle the thoroughbred horses for racing stables. Many of the slaves had groomed plantation horses for years and now gravitated to stables looking for jobs. This group of African Americans who were to become jockeys is the true first African American athletes of America before Jackie Robinson even broke the colored barrier.
Some of these jockeys were; Issac Burns Murphy, Oliver Lewis, Jimmy "Wink" Winkfield, Willie Sims. It was an African American who won the very first Kentucky Derby, Oliver Lewis, riding Aristide. Of the 15 jockeys in the first Derby, 13 were African Americans dominating the racing circuits. Purses were growing along with attendance, so before long, white realized the money to be made being a jockey. They were determined to freeze the African American jockeys out through intimidation and the use of Jim Crow laws. They would push them into the rails while racing, used the whip against them, and constant harassment. Racism was rampant, and from 1921-2000 there were no African American jockeys.
Many of the African Americans associated with horse racing, the jockeys, groomers, and stablehands are buried in the African Cemetery No. 2 and the men of the U.S. Colored Troops of the Civil War.
Next Comes The Latinos and The Women Jockeys
In 1963 when a Latino, Braulio Baeza, won the Kentucky Derby, opening the way for others. Since his win, eleven Latin American jockeys have gone n to win the Kentucky Derby. Some of their names were; Edgar Prado, Victor Espinoza, Mario Gutierrez, Jose Santos, and John Velazquez.
And now comes the women! In 1970, Diane Crump was riding in the Kentucky Derby, facing criticism and harassment and other women followed her, but no woman has won the Kentucky Derby.
A truly great book by Edward Hotaling, The Great Black Jockeys tells the lives of these African American jockeys and their contributions to the great sport of horse racing. They truly deserve to be remembered for their pioneer achievements.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on December 28, 2020:
Thank you so much for reading. I appreciate your visit.
Rosina S Khan on December 28, 2020:
Nice to know about Jockeys winning Kentucky Derby. It was sure was interesting to read about the great sport of horse racing. Thank you, Fran, for the wonderful share.