A Maryland legislator has expressed his anger that no Black jockeys are among those running in the Preakness field on May 21 in Baltimore.
State Del. Emmett C. Burns said discrimination still exists in the sport.
“The racial make-up today in the major horse races is quite different from years ago when black riders dominated the sport and won large prizes for white owners,” Burns said in a statement. “Experts say that the prestigious Jockey Club is a prime example of how White males with Southern roots and Ivy League backgrounds continue to dominate what has become an extremely profitable sport.”
Burns said Keith Chamblin, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association senior vice president, told reporters in 2009, ”I’ve never contemplated an ad campaign to reach African-Americans specifically, nor would I.”
Burns contends that University of Arizona’s celebrated race track program has only graduated one Black student since January 1991.
According to a recent Ebony article, Blacks used to dominate horse racing, and were represented on a level similar to their presence in the National Basketball Association today.
Once America’s most popular sport from 1823 until the Civil War, horse racing was profitable, and Black slaves helped make their owners’ wealthy. The sport produced America’s first Black sports superstars, according to Ebony.
Oliver Lewis, who was Black, won the first-ever Kentucky Derby in 1875, competing against 13 other Black jockeys. Five of the horses in that race had Black trainers. Blacks would continue to dominate, winning 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derby races.
But beginning in 1890, segregated competition became the norm, leading Black jockeys to be refused membership from various jockey clubs, the organizers of most major races. The change forced many great Black jockeys, including Jimmy Winkfield, who won two Kentucky Derby races, to participate overseas. Even after segregated competition halted around the mid 20th century, Black jockeys remained a minority.
Burns said he has sent a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley on the issue, and hopes to schedule a private meeting with the governor to discuss how to end discrimination at future runnings of the Preakness.