The 139th running of the Kentucky Derby will see just its second African-American jockey since 1921.
Between 1875 and 1902, over half of the titles won at the Kentucky Derby belonged to African-American jockeys. Former slaves and the sons of former slaves, they were the nation’s elite riders. But the legacy did not last long, black riders were systematically boxed out of the Sport of Kings, and by the 1950’s Churchill Downs was altogether segregated.
This year, a 29-year-old jockey by the name of Kevin Krigger will attempt to recreate horse racing’s past. On May 4, riding a horse named Goldencents, Krigger will become only the second black jockey to compete in the Kentucky Derby in over 90 years.
Krigger’s obsession first surfaced at the age of 5, when he took a neighbor’s horse for a ride, tearing off at full speed. Krigger soon had a mare of his own, racing friends on the beaches and dirt roads of his native St. Croix. While he’s now fully aware of how he’s helping to return black jockeys to their former status, Krigger also understands that the only thing that will win him a title is commitment. Waking well before dawn each morning, he’s at the stables by six, exercising horses and fine-tuning his skills for hours on end. When he’s not at the track, he’s working out on a machine called an Equicizer – a sort of mechanical horse.
He is known for his moments of bravado, like the time he won a race by seven lengths, standing in the stirrups and pointing to the crowd while crossing the finish line. A forgivable sin, taking into account how hard his journey to the Derby has been. As a teen, he walked 4-hours round trip to St. Croix’s only racetrack. He came to the States at 17, traveling the nation’s circuit of low-end racetracks struggling to catch a break. Now on May 4th, Kevin Krigger hopes to prove that once again African-American jockeys can dominate the sport of horse racing.
So, tonight we’ll pour a tipple of Kentucky bourbon over one of our handcrafted whiskey stones. Then we’ll raise a glass to the 5-foot-6, 112-pound Kevin Krigger, who has proven that the small can indeed be mighty.