Isaac Burns Murphy: A Kentucky Derby Legend

When you look at American sports today, it’s hard not to notice the impact of the black athlete. Our dominance in all the major sports like basketball, football, baseball, golf, tennis, etc., have been noted throughout history. However, many people aren’t aware of the significant role Melanated people played in the horse racing industry during the 19th century.

To add more context, 14 out of the 15 racers in the first Kentucky Derby were black. Isaac Burns Murphy was a former slave that went on to be considered one of the greatest horse racers of all time, winning 628 races out of 1,412 races. Not only did Mr. Murphy win the Kentucky Derby three times but was also the first person elected to the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York. During the height of his career, he would earn between 10k-20k a year making him the highest paid racer of his time. His success as a jockey further proves what Melanated people can do when given an opportunity.















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