Remembering the last Black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby

Published: May. 5, 2021 at 5:19 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WAVE/WBTV) - Success in the saddle can come at an early age for some jockeys. In the case of one well known Kentucky Derby winning rider, amazing seeds of greatness were planted during life’s formative years.

Aimee Casey recalls the accomplishments of her grandfather Jimmy Winkfield who won the Kentucky Derby 120 years ago this week.

“It is so amazing to me that he started early riding bare back as a, a kid that was nine years old,” Aimee Casey said. “The trials and obstacles he had to overcome in order to become that athlete is, is even, I mean, like I said, it’s unheard of, it just wouldn’t happen today.”

Understanding the importance of his role in the racing means coming to grips with a major contribution for his daughter, Liliane Casey.

“Fifteen Negros rode to Derby fame,” Liliane Casey said. “There were 15 black jockeys that won up to that point. My father was the last one, 15 to win the Derby.”

Liliane Casey beamed with pride in talking about her father who was the last of his race to win the Kentucky Derby, as she explained in the he documentary Forgotten at the Finish Line back in 2000.

“All he wants to do is ride the horses, and to become a jockey was more or less a discovery that one of the stable boys saw him ride and said and told one of the trainers, you know, we should get him because he’s good. And so they took my father, you know, and put him on the horse and sure enough.”

Sure, enough… he won the Kentucky Derby on His Eminence in 1901. The next day, Winkfield’s victory was headline news across the country. Page two of Louisville’s Courier Journal tells how the horse and jockey found the lead early into the race.

That next year, in 1902, Winkfield’s efforts resulted in a repeat performance by crossing the wire first on Alan-A-Dale. But a big change came in 1903 after a Derby loss. Winkfield left the country and watched his career soar outside of the U.S. When he was riding in Europe and in Russia, he made $300,000 in that one particular year that was off the charts back in that day.

From the tracks in Russia to France, the Kentucky native survived two World Wars on foreign soil, and his love for the sport is found in the family’s DNA.

“I’ve always loved animals,” Aimee Casey said. “And early on I was going to be a veterinarian.”

Tracks around Louisiana rely on the services of Winkfield’s granddaughter who’s making her own kind of history.

“Now many equine veterinarians are, are women That it used to be male only, and slowly we’ve come up and we’re starting to surpass, “Aimee Casey told WAVE 3 News.

While celebrated accomplishments came early in the 20th century, Jimmy Winkfield would get his due more than 100 years after his Derby wins. In 2004, he was inducted in Saratoga, New York’s National Racing Hall of Fame.

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