An African-American Jockey Hasn't Won the Kentucky Derby for More Than a Century. Here's Why
When it became possible to make a good living riding, things changed
By Olivia B. Waxman

As jockeys who weren’t black saw African-American jockeys making a good living off of horse-racing, Murphy was an example of someone who became “a victim of his own success,” says Pellom McDaniels III, author of The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Burns Murphy and an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Emory University. In the 1890 season, Murphy was accused of being an alcoholic and drunk on the back of a horse. McDaniels says that, in his research, he discovered that Murphy was actually drugged.

Many black jockeys were sabotaged, to the point where, by the early 20th century, they were becoming more of a rarity in the sport. Jimmy Winkfield was the last African-American jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, in 1902, and he ended up going to Europe and making a name for himself in Russia, France and Germany.


Former slaves and immediate descendants knew the horses and took care of them, naturally becoming jockeys.

Black jockeys were making way too much money and white people wanted in.

Black jockeys were drugged and sabotaged, and now there are no more Black jockeys.

The older I get, the more amazed I am that these little nuggets of America Ain’t Shit keep crossing my path. Things I never even imagined just weaving themselves into the tapestry of white men doing whatever they could to keep every other group underfoot.

Poppy dresses appropriately for Kentucky Derby day.

“If you don’t wear a hat to the Kentucky Derby,” says Sheila Nobles of C.K. Nobles, the official milllinery designer for the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, “you’ll feel like the woman who wears jeans to a little black dress party.”

Larceny Bourbon

Derby day means only one thing - bourbon in my face. Oh, and I think there are horses. And hats. So get your drink on Churchill Downs-style, with this mint Julep recipe:

½ oz. simple syrup

¾ oz. fresh lemon juice

2 - 3 oz. Larceny bourbon (I suggest wheated bourbons for a julep!)

some sprigs of mint to keep it fresh

Muddle the mint with lemon and syrup. Add crushed ice and pour the bourbon over the ice. Stir until the glass frosts. Decorate with some mint sprigs.


Historic RecipesMint Julep

The Mint Julep — a cocktail of mint leaf, bourbon, sugar, and crushed ice — has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century. So how is it that the Mint Julep came to be synonymous with the most prestigious horse race in the United States?

The julep cup itself is a longstanding Southern tradition. For wealthy Southerners, silver or pewter cups were popular gifts for weddings, christenings, and graduations. Monogrammed and dated to mark the occasion, they were handed down as family heirlooms. Such cups were also perfect for cocktails — when held by the top edge or bottom, the crushed ice inside will create a frosty exterior.

As for the beverage, the Mint Julep appeared in 1784 as a remedy for pain and upset stomach. In the early 1800s, Virginians would sip brandy or rum juleps over breakfast. The drink made its way west, from the high society of Virginia to the working class of Kentucky, and brandy was replaced by bourbon, a liquor that was less inexpensive and more readily available. Juleps became akin to coffee at dawn for farmers facing long days in the fields.

In 1938, the Mint Julep became Churchill Downs‘ signature drink. It was sold for 75 cents in a collectible souvenir glass. Today, more than 120,000 juleps are served at the Kentucky Derby each year.


• 2.5 ounces of bourbon whisky (non-alcoholic alternative: ginger ale)
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 2 teaspoons water
• Fresh mint sprigs (stems removed)
• Crushed ice


• Place 3-5 mint leaves at the bottom of the cup and muddle gently. Add sugar and water and crush slightly. Fill cup with crushed ice. Add bourbon and garnish with a mint sprig.

Isaac Burns Murphy

Considered one of the greatest jockeys in history, he won three Kentucky Derbies between 1884 and 1891. This feat wasn’t matched by another jockey until 1945. His career win record at 34% has yet to be equaled in American horse racing. He also was the first person to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Why did his name fall into obscurity?

Keep reading

Derby Day seems as fitting as any to announce I purchased my next partner. 

It’s been a pretty crazy year so far. I got married. I went on a globetrotting honeymoon with my new husband. I completed one of my biggest projects to-date in my career. I also lost my heart horse.

So many highs and lows.

I miss my mare terribly. I think of her always, every day. For a while I tried not to. I hid the pictures I had of her and banned myself from rewatching our old videos on YouTube. I scrolled really fast past her face when having to revisit older posts on my blog and social media streams. I just couldn’t look at her and be grateful yet.

So when my barn owner called me the week of my wedding and told me about a horse she had for sale, I tried to push that away too. It’s too soon, I kept telling myself. I had been back to the barn a handful of times since she passed. I cried every time with my people there. I’d sat on a few borrowed horses. I cried through my rides in the saddle. Nothing, it seemed, was making the grief easier to handle.

So I got married. I went on my honeymoon. I was happy for the distraction of family and friends and new beginnings. Then the excitement died down and I struggled to find the pace in life I was used to. There was a gaping hole where my mare had been. I didn’t know what to do with all the free time I had now that I didn’t have a horse to care for.

Somehow I still ended up at the barn.

And that’s when I met him. He was gangly but tall and sturdy. He had thicker legs than I’d ever seen on a thoroughbred before. He had no manners and he cribbed. He knew nothing and looked like a mangy fool. My barn owner told me this was Mikey, the horse she mentioned before, a  a 17.1 hand American Thoroughbred gelding by Street Boss.

He was so wildly opposite of my mare. He’s goofy and affectionate. Oddly enough, he’s very mellow under saddle. I bought him to be my next partner.

 I find myself crying often when I ride him. Sometimes I feel guilty for enjoying the ride on him and just his company in general. But I like that he gives me something productive and exciting to think about.

It’s easier to look at the photos and watch the videos I have of my mare and I now and remember the wonderful memories we shared together. Buying a horse to fill the void of the old one isn’t the answer. I know that. But Mikey is helping me move on. He’s reminding me why I love these animals as much as I do. And he’s encouraging me dream again.

Welcome to the family big guy. ❤️