Deshawn Parker is the most successful black horse jockey in today’s modern derbies with over 4,000 victories. In a sport that is now dominated by Latinos, Parker is the 54th highest-ranking jockey in racing history. Today, only 30 of the approximate 750 members of the national Jockey’s Guild are African American. According to recent stats, 42-year-old Parker has estimated earnings of over $47 million dollars. In 2010, Deshawn Parker became the first black jockey to win the most North American races since James “Soup” Perkins in 1895.
Parker credits his success to the pioneering black jockeys of history like Isaac Murphy, who was the first black sports millionaire in 1884.
Black horse jockeys were originally slaves from the south who were put on horseback by their slave masters. Or, like in Isaac Murphy’s case, the sons of former slaves. Murphy became the first black sports millionaire with big wins in the late 1800s. He carried a high profile and even had a white valet. Murphy was the first racer inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame.
Thoroughbred jockey James Winkfield, who was the last known African American jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, succeeded Isaac Murphy, but with the introduction of segregation and Jim Crow, the presence of black horse jockeys disappeared after the 1920s. Even Winkfield had to move to Russia to maintain his celebrity status. When he returned to the states to be honored by the Kentucky Derby in 1960, he was refused entry to the celebration because he was black. It wasn’t until the year 2000, with rider Marlon St. Julien that the black jockeys began to resurface in America.