In 1826, the Kentucky Association for the Improvement of the Breeds of Stock was established “to improve the breed of horses by encouraging the sports of the turf.” Fifty members of the group met at Mrs. Keen’s Inn to foster the industry that would later establish Lexington as the horse capital of the world. By 1872, the association owned 65 acres located where William Wells Brown Elementary School, Hope IV apartments, and the Equestrian View neighborhood now stand. Street names in these neighborhoods are inspired by its racing history.
The racing industry’s growth in Lexington can be traced back to the late 1700’s, when thoroughbred breeders entrusted the grooming, training, and riding of their horses to the African Americans held enslaved on their farms. When slavery ended in 1865, these men remained experts in the industry because of their long-held skills and familiarity with thoroughbreds and the sport. The Kentucky Association Race Track offered many opportunities for African-American horsemen to showcase their considerable skills well into the twentieth century. From 1875 through 1902, African-American jockeys rode 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derby winners.
Over a dozen of the African-American men who were extremely successful in their careers as jockeys, trainers, and thoroughbred owners/breeders lived in the neighborhoods surrounding the track. A few of them are highlighted in this walking tour.
If you would like to know more about how African-American men dominated and grew the racing industry in its earliest and most formative years, please visit Phoenix Rising Lex.