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The First Kentucky Derby: Thirteen Black Jockeys, One Shady Owner, and the Little Red Horse That Wasn't Supposed to Win

National Archives Museum

Tuesday, May 2, 2023 - 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. EDT

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Over its nearly century-and-a-half history, the Kentucky Derby has grown to be one of the biggest sporting events of the year, attracting 150,000 spectators at the track and nearly 15 million television viewers on the first Saturday each May. But in 1875, the year of the first Derby, it was a different time. The majority of jockeys were Black, in stark contrast to the present-day Derby. Racing historian Mark Shrager examines the events leading up to the first “Run for the Roses,” the unsuccessful effort that the winning owner might have made to rig the race for his preferred horse, and the prominent role played by African Americans in Gilded Age racing culture—a holdover from pre-emancipation days, when the enslaved were trained from birth to ride for their wealthy owners and grew up surrounded by the horses that would be their life’s work.

All American: The Power of Sports and programs presented in conjunction with the exhibit are made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of AT&T, AARP, and Mars, Incorporated. Additional support provided by HISTORY® and the Lawrence F. O’Brien Family.


All events listed in the calendar are free unless noted.