Kendrick Carmouche rode more than just Bourbonic, a long shot slotted in the number 20 position of a 20-horse field in the 174th running of the Kentucky Derby Saturday, May 1. He shadowed the 102-year-old ghost of Jimmy Winkfield, the last African American to win the Run for the Roses.

Had the 37-year-old Carmouche won, he would have matched Winkfield, who won atop Alan-a-Day in 1902.

Already, the Louisiana native bucked formidable hurdles just to get to Churchill Downs by guiding Bourbonic against 72-to-1 odds to a historic first-place finish in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack in April.

By the day of the Derby, Bourbonic went off at 30-to-1 odds and did not place in race.

“If you work hard, this is what you get at the end,” he told reporters after the unexpected win. “I hope this opens up a lot of eyes, black, white whatever, whoever’s looking at me and listening to me talk about these horses and me riding and the passion that they have. I hope it drives them in whatever career they have to be just as successful.”

The annual event in Queens, N.Y., counts as a prep race for three-year-old horses in which a victory is a sure ticket to join the field at the Kentucky Derby, along with a $750,000 purse. Carmouche staged an upset of mammoth proportions, pushing Bourbonic past a speedy field to win by a nose.

The Wood Memorial upset, the biggest in the race’s history, marked part of a spectacular few months for Carmouche. Beginning in November 2020, he won the Breeders’ Cup in Lexington, Ky., and followed that with first-place victories in nine races over four days at Aqueduct.

He won the riding title at Aqueduct last year and ranks seventh among the nation’s jockeys in earnings with more than $118 million in purse earnings. Since he earned his jockey license at the age of 16, he has won 3,400 races, according to DRF, the online version of the Daily Racing Form, the national bible of racing news.

On May 1, he entered horse racing’s hallowed ground, the first Black jockey in the Derby since 2013 in a sport that was once dominated by Black riders. The first Kentucky Derby winner was guided to a first-place finish by an African American, Oliver Lewis. Fifteen and the first 28 Derby winners were ridden by African American jockeys, according to Churchill Downs records.

The post-World War I Jim Crow climate of racial segregation pushed them out of the sport.

The last victorious Black jockey in the Run for the Roses was Winkfield, who won in 1901 and 1902. Winkfield left the U.S. for Russia, where he dominated the sport until forced by the Russian Revolution to flee for France, where his domination of riding and training continued until his retirement.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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