The topic of slavery has always been a black eye to America that seemingly will never heal, and when African American jockey Kevin Krigger jumps aboard Goldencents in the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby it will raise its ugly head again.
There was a time more than a century ago when Blacks dominated the sport of kings, regularly winning the run for the roses that have become the greatest horse race in the history of our country.
Blacks were at the top of the jockey colony during slavery because wealthy owners didn’t just own the horse, but the Black jockey as well. Blacks had to clean stalls, barns and developed a better relationship with horses than they had with humans.
It is a disgraceful chapter in a country many consider the greatest in the world, but one that if not for an occasional Kevin Krigger we are all to soon not to remember, which is not a good thing.
Krigger, 29, is not just ready to become the first Black to win the Kentucky derby since 1902, but he is poised to win it.
I met Krigger about a year ago and he comes across as one who embraces who he is and his skin color and aspires to be great regardless of the odds.
In just a short span he has impressed local prominent trainers with his riding ability in Southern California that he has gone from riding horses that few figure could win to those that could win the greatest race in the sport.
From his days as riding bare back as a kid in the U.S. Virgin Island, he learned what it takes to get the best our of a race horse and his future in the sport in bright.
On the first Saturday in May he will become the first Black jockey since 2000 to earn a mount in the derby. There are approximately 1,000 jockeys and only 50 of them are Black. Most ride in relative obscurity.
The first Kentucky Derby was run 10 years after slavery was abolished, and 13 of the 15 jockeys were African-American. Of the first 28 Derbies, 15 were won by African-American riders. One of the best was Jimmy (Wink) Winkfield, who won back-to-back Derbies in 1901 and 1902 and finished second in 1903. His 1902 victory, however, would be the last Derby win for an African-American rider.
Segregation soon overwhelmed the sport; by the early 1920s African-America riders were completely gone from mainstream racing for the rest of the century. In 2000, the Louisiana-born St. Julien, who won riding titles at Delta Downs and Lone Star Park in the 1990s, finished seventh on Curule. St. Julien’s presence was but an interruption of the norm; Krigger’s could be the same thing.
When the gates swing open for the run for the roses, Krigger will be on the brightest stage of them all and he will be high in the saddle of Goldencents , the Santa Anita derby winner when the race begins.
Goldencents trainer Doug O’Neill saddled last year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner ‘I’ll Have Another’ and he is quite confident in the abilities of Goldencents. Ironically, Krigger could have had the mount on last year’s derby winner, but instead it went to another novice Mario Gutierrez. Krigger has since outrode Gutierrez since then.