Jockey Kendrick Carmouche

Unless you had been following his story all year, it’s highly unlikely that you knew who Kendrick Carmouche was. He certainly wasn’t a big name jockey and the horse he was riding in the Kentucky Derby Saturday Bourbonic was a 30-1 longshot. But Carmouche made history in the 147th Derby last weekend, even though his horse only finished 13th. That’s because he became the first Black jockey to race in the Derby since Kevin Krigger rode Goldencents in 2013. 

Earlier in the week Carmouche, a Louisiana native, talked about the importance of his racing there, saying he hoped to an inspiration to other Black jockeys, and for that matter just underdogs in general. “I’m here, (and) I’m here to fight, too,” Carmouche said during an interview with The Courier Journal last Tuesday. “It’s a big thing coming to the Kentucky Derby this year. I’m very pleased, I’m ready. Yes, I’m a Black jockey. But I want to inspire everybody. It shouldn’t be just one side of the race, it should be everybody. Everyone is human, we just have different colors.”

After he completed the race Saturday he added some other notes to his story. “It’s not my color that got me here,” Carmouche said. He’s compiled over 3,400 victories in his career. “It’s my hard work, success and the strong people behind me who kept me fightng. All you people who have hatred in your heart, take the biggest mirror and do a 360. You’re gonna be by yourself the rest of your life. We all need to get along, it’s the 21st century.” 

It took Carmouche 21 years to make his first Derby. But there was a time when Black jockeys not only routinely raced in the Derby, they dominated it. Black jockeys won 15 of the first 28 Derby races. Oliver Lewis won the inaugural Derby aboard Aristides in 1875. Isaac Murphy won three Derbys in eight years aboard Buchanan (1884), Riley (1890) and Kingman (1891). 

But then the combination of systemic racism, direct violence against them, and other exclusionary practices eventually saw Black jockeys squeezed out of top level horse racing. From 1921-2000, there were zero Black jockeys in the Kentucky Derby. Current membership in the national Jockey’s Guild in terms of Blacks most recently numbered 30 out of 750 members (four percent).

But Carmouche, whose love of horses came from his father, hasn’t let the odds dismay or affect him. He maintains supreme confidence in his ability and told the press corps after Saturday’s race that he didn’t think this was his only shot at winning the Derby. “It’s not my last time here,” Carmouche said. “I will be back.”

Hopefully there will be others to join him in that quest.