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We’ve got a horse in the race

Melvin B. Miller
We’ve got a horse in the race

For 146 years the Kentucky Derby has been run from Louisville, Kentucky. However, there was considerable protest this year to prevent the running of the world’s most prestigious thoroughbred horse race out of respect for Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was fatally shot by the police on March 13.

Even without the Taylor protest the coronavirus pandemic created many impediments for the event. The race is usually held in May, but this year the date was moved to the first Saturday in September. There is usually an attendance of 170,000 in Churchill Downs, but this year the race was run with empty stands.

Oliver Lewis won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875.

Oliver Lewis won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875.

The Kentucky Derby is a race for 3-year-old thoroughbreds capable of running 1¼ miles on dirt. They are carefully bred and then begin the racing training after they are a year old. Races for 2-year-olds will determine which horses are likely candidates for Churchill Downs. Owners invest substantial sums in promising horses in order to earn the glamour and recognition that goes with winning.

Horse racing has been called “the sport of kings” because it was once the activity of nobles and royalty. While Oliver Lewis, a Black jockey, won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, Black riders were later banned from the sport by the Jockey Club. Black owners of thoroughbreds were rare. However, Greg Harbut and Ray Daniels are Black co-owners of Necker Island, a horse that finished ninth in the 146th Kentucky Derby on Sep. 5.

The winner, “Authentic” had betting odds of 8-1. Necker Island was ranked 45-1, with little chance of being among the winners. But perhaps this is the beginning of another opportunity for blacks to get in the game.

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