The expanded Black Heritage in Racing exhibit at the Kentucky Derby Museum has opened to the public.
The exhibit, a permanent display inside the Museum since 1993, documents the stories and contributions of Black horsemen in the sport of Thoroughbred racing. With support from Churchill Downs and the James Graham Brown Foundation, the Black Heritage in Racing exhibit has moved from the second floor to a larger and more prominent location on the first floor of the museum. The new exhibit space is just under 930 square feet, which is more than 20 times larger than the previous exhibit space. This increased footprint allows the museum to display more of its collection of artifacts pertaining to Black history in the sport, add new components such as oral history interviews and artwork, and provide visitors the best experience possible. The exhibit takes guests through Black heritage in horse racing history, from the early days when Black horsemen dominated the sport, to the Jim Crow era that led to the exclusion of Black jockeys, and to modern times.
“We’re excited to invite the public to see this beautiful exhibit. It is really striking, with a bold red theme throughout, and larger than life images of these horsemen,” said Patrick Armstrong, president and CEO of Kentucky Derby Museum. “It was our team’s intent when designing this exhibit to give these individuals their time to shine, by making them stand out in these oversized pictures throughout the space. It is our hope that when exploring this exhibit, people will walk away with a greater appreciation of the Black heritage that is woven through horse racing. It is a distinct honor for us to be the keepers and tellers of their stories for years to come.”
Guests can explore the stories of history-makers like Oliver Lewis, the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby aboard Aristides in 1875. The story of Ansel Williamson, the trainer of Aristides, is also featured. Visitors also can learn about the career of one of the greatest jockeys of all time, Isaac Murphy. Born an enslaved person, he went on to win three Kentucky Derbys and won an estimated 44% of his races, compared to the average jockey today winning around 20%. Many more stories are shared, including names from the modern era, like hip-hop star MC Hammer, who had a third place finisher in the 1992 Kentucky Derby with Dance Floor and won the Kentucky Oaks in 1991 with Lite Light.
Additionally, guests will learn about Greg Harbut and Ray Daniels, the owners of Necker Island, a horse who contended for Kentucky Derby 146. Harbut’s great-grandfather was the groom to the legendary horse Man o’ War.