Thoroughbred horse “Exile” with jockey
The Forgotten Athletes
One of the most overlooked aspects in the history of horse racing is the legacy of the African-American jockeys.
As thoroughbred horse racing first boomed in the Southern United States, slaves were the ones who cared for, lived with, and trained most of the horses. They were natural selections to be the ones who ran the horses in the races.
The Smithsonian magazine article linked above is a good overview of the position of non-whites on the track - even in the biggest races, like the Kentucky Derby, race was irrelevant. Only the colors of their silks (representing their stable) mattered. In fact, in the first Kentucky Derby (in 1875), thirteen of the fifteen jockeys were African-American, representing stables from both the North and the South.
Since the 1910s, however, African-American jockeys have been extremely scarce. Due to increasing racism and discrimination, many of the best jockeys of the late-19th century left for Europe, and both jockeyed and trained some of the best European (especially French) racing horses in history.
About the Horse
Exile was a thoroughbred born in the United States, with an English sire and French dam. He raced predominantly in the Northeast, and won the Twin City Handicap two years in a row. Most of his purses were for placing or showing, however. The Kentucky Derby winner for 1909, Wintergreen, was sired by Exile.
Source: Album of Celebrated American and English Racing Horses. Kinney Bros. Tobacco Company, 1888.