African Americans in the Derby

African-American horsemen played a vital role in shaping early American turf history, and the Kentucky Derby is no exception. The history of the Kentucky Derby and African-American horsemen are intertwined. The Derby and Churchill Downs owe a great deal to these men who helped shape America's greatest race. Thirteen of the 15 riders in the first Derby were African-American, while African-American reinsmen won 15 of the Derby's first 28 runnings.

  • James Winkfield was a two-time Kentucky Derby winner

  • James Winkfield retired from horse racing in 1930 after a career 2,600 wins

  • Oliver Lewis rode Aristides to victory in the inaugural Kentucky Derby

  • Alonzo "Lonnie" Clayton

  • Isaac Murphy

  • James "Soup" Perkins

  • William Walker

  • Willie Simms

On June 25, 1980, the 11 African-American jockeys who rode a total of 15 Derby winners between 1875 and 1902, were honored by the NAACP and the Lincoln Foundation. A plaque commemorating the occasion is now in the Kentucky Derby Museum's collection.