The 2021 Kentucky Derby will include a Black jockey for the first time since 2013.
In fact, Kendrick Carmouche is now one of the very few Black riders in the sport of competitive horse racing, and one of the few to compete in the first leg of the Triple Crown horse racing series over the past century.
Kendrick Carmouche could become the first Black jockey in 119 years to win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
“All I’ve ever wanted is opportunity,” he said. “I’ve earned it everywhere I’ve ridden. Now I have an opportunity to bring home those roses.”https://t.co/0Qf0rdjcde
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 28, 2021
Carmouche understands what he’s up against and says, ” I hope being a Black rider in the Kentucky Derby inspires a lot of people because my road to get here wasn’t easy, but I never quit.”
“What I’ve been wanting all my career, ” he continues, ” is to inspire people and make them know it’s not about color. It’s about how successful you are in life and how far you had to fight to get to that point.”
Black horseman played a pivotal role in shaping early American turf history, and the Kentucky Derby is no exception. The history of the Derby and Black horsemen are intertwined. The Derby and Churchill Downs owe a great deal to those who helped shaped America’s greatest race. Thirteen of the 15 riders in the first Derby were Black, and Black horsemen won 15 of the first 28 runnings.
Names like Oliver Lewis, William Walker, George Garrett Lewis, Babe Hurd, Isaac Murphy, Erskine Henderson, Isaac Lewis, Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton, James “Soup” Perkins, Willie Simms, and Jimmy Winkfield paved the way for Carmouche to have this opportunity amidst all the systemic racism in the sport. His existence alone is important. To show that the racism of yesteryear couldn’t erase all Black talent from the sport, and a new day is coming.
Carmouche is making history as one of only two Black jockeys born in the U.S. to compete in the Derby since 1921. The last time a Black U.S.-born jockey participated in the race was in 2000 when Marlon St. Julien competed in the annual event.
Carmouche was born into the sport. His dad was a jockey. Carmouche has parlayed that early exposure to racing into a successful career with over $118M in earnings and winning more than 3,400 races since beginning his professional career in 2000.
Chris Goodlett, a historian at the Kentucky Derby Museum, attributed the decline in Black representation to segregation and the Jim Crow laws. That coupled with intimidation by white riders, white supremacist delusion, plus decisions by race officials, owners and trainers, played a huge role in the decline of the Black jockey.
And the sport has never recovered. From 1922 to 2000 not one Black jockey participated in the Kentucky Derby.
Now equestrians like Carmouche are returning in mass, and they are showing the world just what hard work and dedication will get you.
“You have to polish yourself. You have to ride smart. You have to do all the correct things, and grind it out until it happens,” Carmouche said in an interview. “This is where I wanna be …. if you don’t dream it it’s never going to happen. I dreamed it. To be here at this point and how long it took and the hard work I put in to get to this point …. going to the Kentucky Derby, is icing on the cake.”
He’s one tough customer too. The Louisiana native has broken bones and banged his body up, but he never takes his eye off the finish line.
“If I were to win this year’s derby, it would touch a lot of people.” A lot of people would be crying and a lot would be happy and have happy tears,” said Carmouche.
The 147th Kentucky Derby takes place on Saturday, May 1st, in Louisville Kentucky at Churchill Downs.