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Shining a spotlight on notable Black jockeys

The Keeneland Library, Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

From the beginnings of the sport in the United States, Black horsemen have made significant contributions to racing. Black jockeys dominated the winner’s circle in racing’s first three decades. They were the first Black superstar athletes in the United States and won 15 of the first 28 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. In fact, 13 of 15 jockeys for the inaugural Kentucky Derby in 1875 were Black.

Below are four legendary Black jockeys from horse racing history that you need to know about:

Oliver Lewis: On May 17, 1875, 19-year-old Lewis won the very first Kentucky Derby on Aristides for Black trainer Ansel Williamson. Lewis and Aristides went on to finish second in the Belmont Stakes. Lewis, a native of Lexington, went on to become a bookmaker after his riding career.

Isaac Burns Murphy: Murphy won the Kentucky Derby three times in 1884, 1890, and 1891 and in doing so became the richest American athlete. During his peak years, Murphy reportedly earned $15,000 to $20,000 annually when the average yearly income for a family of four was $1,200. Murphy, a native of Clark County in Central Kentucky who began his riding career at age 14, also owned and trained horses. He is buried at the Kentucky Horse Park across from Man O’ War. Murphy was among the first group of jockeys inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in its inaugural year of 1955.

James Winkfield: Winkfield became the second jockey to win Kentucky Derbys back to back, in 1901 and 1902. Winkfield took his talents overseas in the following years, becoming a leading jockey in Russia and also competing in several other European countries. He later bred and trained racehorses in France. Winkfield, the last Black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2004.

Willie Simms: In the 1890s, Simms became the first (and only) Black jockey to win all the American Triple Crown races, winning the Kentucky Derby (in 1896 and 1898), Preakness (1898), and Belmont Stakes (1893 and 1894) decades before the concept of the Triple Crown took hold. In 1895, the Augusta, Ga. native was invited to race in England, where he became the first jockey to win a race on an American horse in that country. Simms won the 1896 Kentucky Derby in its first running as a 1 ¼-mile race. He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1977.

Getting to know Breeders’ Cup Classic hopeful Tom’s d’Etat


Many of the top Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders through the years have come out of the Triple Crown races and proven themselves to be elite 1 ¼-mile racehorses either as 3-year-olds or sometimes not until they are 4 or 5. Others, like Tom’s d’Etat, require a little more patience.

Now 7 years old, the bay horse by leading sire Smart Strike had shown promise early in his career with several runaway victories, but in the last eight months Tom’s d’Etat has emerged as a truly elite older male.

Race Résumé

Unplaced in his career debut in a one-mile turf race, Tom’s d’Etat has raced exclusively on dirt since that inauspicious start and has finished in the top three in 14 of 17 subsequent races.

He earned his first win by four lengths in August 2016 at Saratoga but did not race again for 7 ½ months when he won again by 3 ¾ lengths March 20, 2017 at Fair Grounds. After a fourth at Churchill Downs in May of that year, he paired allowance wins by 2 ¼ lengths and nine lengths before another extended break. This time, he did not return to the races for more than 15 months.

The flashes of brilliance continued upon his return, however, as he won a November 2018 allowance-optional claiming race at Churchill Downs and followed with a 3 ¼-length victory in the Tenacious Stakes in December at Fair Grounds in his stakes debut.

After a ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes, Tom’s d’Etat again went to the sidelines for a few months, but since then he has strung together eight quality races in the last 14 months for trainer Al Stall Jr.

Included in the stretch were back-to-back wins to close his 6-year-old campaign in the Grade 2 Hagyard Fayette Stakes at Keeneland in October by 4 ¼ lengths for his first graded stakes score and a breakthrough Grade 1 win in the 2019 Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare in November at Churchill Downs.

Tom’s d’Etat’s powerful 3 ¼-length runaway in the Clark proved he could duplicate a top effort against strong competition. While he had shown he was capable of putting up big speed figures earlier in his career, the 116 Equibase Speed Figure he earned for the Fayette and 113 for the Clark were promising, as were the 105 and 104 Beyer Speed Figures he earned for those races respectively.

The success has continued in 2020 as Tom’s d’Etat won the Oaklawn Mile Stakes at Oaklawn Park with an explosive late rally on April 11 in his season debut and then romped by 4 ¼ lengths in the prestigious Stephen Foster Stakes June 27 at Churchill to extend his stakes winning streak to four.

“It was just an unbelievable day on Saturday,” Stall said. “To draw off like that, and almost break the track record, was unreal. He ran a sub 36-second final three-eighths. You don’t see many route horses in the country that are able to do that, especially as geared down as he was in the final stages.”

Indeed, Tom’s d’Etat ran a heck of a race that looked as good on the screen as it did on paper with a 109 Beyer Speed Figure, 116 Equibase Speed Figure, 112 BrisNet rating, and eye-catching 129 TimeForm US speed rating. Those are serious racehorse speed figures.

“I think the most important thing is he’s had the chance to get in form by being in steady training for about 18 months and get a bunch of races strung together,” Stall said after the Stephen Foster victory. “He enjoyed his freshening at the Fair Grounds this winter, and he couldn’t have done any better. Oaklawn couldn’t have been any better, so I feel like we’re in good shape going forward into the rest of this year. He’s in pretty good shape, and this race is only the second race back.”

Tom’s d’Etat is versatile enough to press the pace, stalk the pace, or close from farther back depending upon the circumstances as we’ve seen in just his two starts this year for Gayle Benson’s G M B Racing. Benson is the principal owner of the New Orleans Saints of the NFL and New Orleans Pelicans of the NBA.

In the Oaklawn Mile, the pace was swift through a half-mile in :46.09 and Tom’s d’Etat was more than seven lengths back at that juncture, but he had plenty of late punch to reel in Grade 1 winner Improbable late. In the Stephen Foster, Tom’s d’Etat raced within a length of an easy half-mile in :48.13 and just powered clear in the stretch with a final eighth of a mile in 12 seconds flat to live up to his 13-10 favoritism. A final furlong that fast rarely occurs in two-turn dirt races like the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster, and runner-up By My Standards was coming off a strong win in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap.

“He’s a great athlete. If he needs to be close, he breaks running, and if the pace is fast, he can back off and listen to the rider,” Stall said. “He’s a smart horse, he’s an athletic horse, and he’s what a Grade 1 horse is supposed to be.”

The only question Tom’s d’Etat still needs to answer is whether he can deliver an elite race at 1 ¼ miles, a distance he has not competed at since the second race of his career. I’m not especially concerned about that given he has won six of nine starts at 1 1/8 miles and seemed to have plenty of gas in the tank late in the Stephen Foster.

It seems rare to see a racehorse hitting his peak stride during his 7-year-old season in 2020, but such is the case with Tom’s d’Etat who looks like a rising star on the road to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.


Tom’s d’Etat is by two-time leading sire Smart Strike, whose offspring have thrived on turf, dirt, and synthetic surfaces as evidenced by his 145 lifetime stakes winners and 73 group or graded stakes winners through June 29. Smart Strike is the sire of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin as well as 2007 champion turf male English Channel, two-time champion Lookin At Lucky, 2011 champion 2-year-old filly My Miss Aurelia, and Canadian Horse of the Year winners Soaring Free and Never Retreat.

Bred by SF Bloodstock, Tom’s d’Etat is out of Grade 3-placed stakes winner Julia Tuttle, by leading sire Giant’s Causeway. Julia Tuttle was a stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles and her dam (mother) – Tom’s d’Etat’s grandam (maternal grandmother) – Candy Cane is a full-sibling (same dam, same sire) to unbeaten and record-setting 2003 Pacific Classic Stakes winner Candy Ride, now a successful sire himself.

Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series resumes with Haskell Stakes on NBC Sports


After a two-week break, the Road to the Breeders’ Cup resumes on Saturday with a significant prep at the Jersey Shore anchoring the weekend’s stakes activity, which has been adjusted somewhat compared with previous years due to changing track schedules in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $1 million, Grade 1 Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park is annually a key event in determining standings in the 3-year-old dirt male division, and that’s especially true this summer since for the first time in history it serves as a qualifying points prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, which is rescheduled for Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs.

The 53rd Haskell Invitational also offers a fees-paid automatic berth to Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 7 at Keeneland as it’s part of the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series Presented by America’s Best Racing. Watch the Haskell on Saturday, July 18 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, and the NBC Sports app.

As a race restricted to 3-year-olds, the Haskell Invitational has not had a year-in, year-out impact on the Breeders’ Cup Classic since the World Championships began in 1984, but in certain years – especially when a strong crop of sophomores emerges – the Haskell has been a key prep race. In 1988, Haskell winner Forty Niner finished fourth in that fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, but runner-up Seeking the Gold made a bigger splash, fighting valiantly in deep stretch before yielding to eventual Horse of the Year Alysheba in the final strides to finish second. Serena’s Song became the first filly to win the Haskell in 1995; she competed in the ’95 and ’96 Breeders’ Cup Distaffs, finishing second in the latter year. Another eventual Hall of Famer, Skip Away, won the 1996 Haskell en route to champion 3-year-old male honors, and then romped in the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Classic to win another championship, this time as champion older male. He then went on to earn Horse of the Year and champion older male honors in 1998.

In 1999, Haskell runner-up Cat Thief posted a 19.60-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Classic under Pat Day, but after that, there was little crossover of note between the two races until 2007. That year was a banner one for 3-year-olds racing on dirt, and the top three finishers in the Haskell Invitational all started in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which was held at the home of the Haskell, Monmouth Park. By that point, Curlin had emerged from his third-place effort in the Haskell to become the dominant racehorse in his class, and he validated that reputation with a 4 ½-length romp in the Classic. Haskell runner-up Hard Spun settled for second again in the Classic, while Haskell winner Any Given Saturday was sixth.

More recently, the Haskell’s profile has been elevated as a Breeders’ Cup Classic prep race (it became part of the Challenge Series in 2015). In 2014, Bayern, the seventh of Bob Baffert’s record eight Haskell winners, scored a front-running upset in the Classic at Santa Anita that survived a steward’s inquiry. And one year later, Baffert-trained Triple Crown winner American Pharoah easily won the Haskell, suffered a shocking upset in the Travers Stakes, and then returned to achieve Grand Slam glory by closing out his career with a blowout Breeders’ Cup Classic win at Keeneland.

The 2018 Haskell runner-up, Bravazo, did not compete in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs but did run a solid third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. That year’s Haskell winner, Good Magic was the 2-year-old champion male of 2017 due to his win in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but he only raced once more as a 3-year-old after the Haskell before he was retired. Spun to Run, third to Maximum Security in the 2019 Haskell at 34.60-1 odds, trained on to win the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park.

The United Nations Stakes, a prestigious Grade 1 race on turf at Monmouth Park usually held in late June/early July, is scheduled on the July 18 Haskell undercard this year. The 1 3/8-mile race has been won by some of the most accomplished grass horses in North America through the years, including Breeders’ Cup winners Manila (1986 and ’87 United Nations, 1986 Turf), Steinlen (1989 Mile, 1990 United Nations), Lure (1992 and ’93 Mile, 1994 United Nations), Better Talk Now (2004 Turf, 2005 United Nations), English Channel (2006 and ’07 United Nations, 2007 Turf), Main Sequence (2014 United Nations and 2014 Turf), and World Approval (2016 United Nations, 2017 Mile).

Watch the Haskell on Saturday, July 18 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, and the NBC Sports app.