Will This Jockey Take the Derby Back to Its Black Roots?

Kevin Krigger, 29, will be the second black jockey to compete in the race since 1921. 

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Kevin Krigger (YouTube)

On May 4, 29-year-old Kevin Krigger will become the second black jockey to compete in the Kentucky Derby since 1921. His presence -- and his designation as a top-10 favorite by the man who trained last year's winner -- is reminding observers of the post-Reconstruction era, when African-American men dominated the race under very different circumstances.

Black jockeys once dominated the Kentucky Derby, winning 15 of the first 28 titles between 1875 and 1902. They were former slaves and their sons – a vestige of colonial times, when planters owned both horses and riders. Post–Civil War, they were the country's best riders, but the narrow window opened by Reconstruction was slammed shut by Jim Crow. Even in Northern cities, white jockeys and officials ran black riders off the track, whitewashing their legacy. Churchill Downs was completely segregated throughout the 1950s.

What might is Krigger's commitment. He gets to the barn at six each morning to exercise horses; when he isn't racing, he trains on a mechanical horse called an Equicizer.

"This young man works his butt off," says Dave Kenney, who co-owns Goldencents with a group that includes Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.

He also shows flashes of swagger. The first time he rode Goldencents, Krigger won by seven lengths, almost setting a track record -- but he stood up in the saddle and pointed to the crowd at the wire. "We missed the record by a hundredth of a second," Kenney says, laughing. "After that race, I thought, 'What do we have here?'"

Read more at Men's Journal.

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