Carmouche to be 1st Black jockey in Kentucky Derby since ’13

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Long before Kendrick Carmouche started riding horses growing up in Louisiana, Black jockeys were synonymous with the sport.

Black riders were atop 13 of the 15 horses in the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 and won 15 of the first 28 editions of the race. Everything has changed since: Carmouche on Saturday will be the first Black jockey in the Kentucky Derby since 2013 and is just one of a handful over the past century.

Carmouche is now one of the few remaining Black jockeys in the U.S. Much like Marlon St. Julien in 2000, Patrick Husbands in 2006 and Kevin Krigger in 2013, his presence in horse racing’s biggest event is a reminder of how the industry marginalized Black jockeys to the point they all but disappeared from the sport.

“As a Black rider getting to the Kentucky Derby, I hope it inspires a lot of people because my road wasn’t easy to get there and I never quit,” Carmouche said. “What I’ve been wanting all my career is to inspire people and make people know that it’s not about color. It’s about how successful you are in life and how far you can fight to get to that point.”

Carmouche is a success story in his own right. He is the son of a jockey who has won more than 3,400 races and earned $118 million since beginning to ride professionally in 2000. He came back from a broken leg three years ago and set himself up for his first Kentucky Derby mount by riding 72-1 long shot Bourbonic to victory in the Wood Memorial on April 3. Bourbonic will leave from the 20th post in Saturday’s race at Churchill Downs.

He’s also a rarity in a sport now dominated by jockeys from Latin America.

“Obviously there haven’t been many in recent decades, but if you go back to the early years of the Derby, the late 1800s, early 1900s, Black jockeys dominated the Kentucky Derby,” NBC Sports analyst Randy Moss said. “Guys like Isaac Murphy and Jimmy Winkfield.”

Carmouche joins St. Julien as the only U.S.-born Black jockeys in the Derby since 1921, which was even then long after the era dominated by Murphy, Winkfield and others.

Chris Goodlett, a historian at the Kentucky Derby Museum, cited a combination of Jim Crow laws and segregation in the U.S., intimidation by white riders and decisions by racing officials, owners and trainers for the decline of Black jockeys in the early 20th century. One example was white counterparts riding Winfield into the rail at Harlem Race Track outside Chicago and injuring him and his horse.

“Consequently, white trainers and owners would be (more) reluctant to ride Black jockeys on their horses due to instances like that,” Goodlett said. “We see it also just from an administrative point of view, as well: fewer licenses being issued to Black jockeys, sometimes not issued at all.”

Brien Bouyea, communications director for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, said many Black jockeys left for Europe because of better working conditions and never returned. Manny Ycaza came from Panama and blazed a trail for Latin American jockeys, who used riding schools and other factors that changed on-track demographics.

Along the way, participation by Black people in the Kentucky Derby ebbed and flowed with significant contributions along the way, including grooms Will Harbut with Man O’War in 1920 and Eddie Sweat with Secretariat in 1973 and trainer Hank Allen with Northern Wolf in 1989. Harbut’s great grandson, Greg Harbut, co-owned 2020 Derby runner Neckar Island and helped found the Ed Brown Society, named after the 19th century Black jockey and trainer to further diversify racing.

Husbands was well-aware of his unique place in history when he rode Seaside Retreat in the 2006 Derby and feels a connection to Carmouche this year because “the stepping stone that he’s doing for his culture is the same stuff I was trying to do for my culture.”

Knowing the history of Black jockeys, Husbands is inspired by Carmouche’s journey.

“When I saw the interview with him two years ago, it bring water to my eyes in terms of how his wife is white, he’s Black and he’s a little bit scared of his kids on his streets,” Husbands said. “It brought me home because he said in this interview that no racetrack was being prejudiced to him. … Now he’s coming in to ride in the Kentucky Derby. It’s like he’s shining a light out there.”

Husbands said Carmouche becoming the first Black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby since 1902 “would be a blessing. It would bring tears to a lot of people’s eyes.”

The usually talkative and confident Carmouche paused several times trying to put into words what it would mean to follow the footsteps of jockeys like first Derby winner Oliver Lewis, Winkfield and Murphy.

“From my perspective, if I win this race, man, it would touch a lot of people,” Carmouche said. “A lot of people will be crying, a lot of people will be happy and a lot of happy tears.”

Watch the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Full coverage is also available on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Royal silks return as King Charles III’s horse finishes 2nd

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SALISBURY, England – The famous royal silks returned to British horse racing on Thursday, with the first runner under the ownership of King Charles III finishing a distant second at Salisbury.

Educator was the first horse to wear the purple, red and gold silks since the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 8.

Her oldest son and heir, Charles, has taken on the royal stable and Educator was sent off as the 11-10 favorite under jockey Tom Marquand for the Radcliffe & Co Handicap.

Okeechobee won by 4 \ lengths in the four-horse race.

The queen’s last runner was Improvise, who was beaten narrowly at Epsom on the day the monarch died at her Balmoral estate in Scotland.

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

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Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

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Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

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Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

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Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!