Kevin Krigger (pictured) is all set to ride horse Goldencents in Kentucky Derby 139 on May 4th, and if he wins, he’ll be the first African-American jockey to do so since 1902, reports the New York Times.
The 29-year-old is ready to make history in a derby that Blacks once dominated, with Blacks winning 15 out of the first 28 runs from 1875 to 1902.
Even though Black jockeys were leaders in the races, the grandstands at Louisville, Ky.’s famed Churchill Downs, where the derby is being held, was off-limits to Blacks during the 1880s.
The White genteel class refused to share the bleachers alongside Black spectators.
Increasing segregation resulted in Black jockeys being barred from riding a Derby winning horse after 1902.
Jimmy “Wink” Winkfield (pictured below), victorious in 1901 and 1902, would be the last African-American to win the world-famous race.
Even in Northern cities, White jockeys and officials ran Black riders off the track, whitewashing the derby legacy. Churchill Downs was completely segregated throughout the 1950s, although Blacks were allowed to work as trainers and groomers.
Krigger is looking to leave a historical footprint at Churchill Downs and the U.S. Virgin Islands native will become the second Black jockey to compete in the derby since 1921 and the first to represent his birthplace.
Watch Krigger being interviewed after a win here:
The young rider’s passion for horses developed at an early age. Krigger was about 5 years old when he snuck out of his home, jumped on a neighbor’s horse, and took off at full speed — it was his first riding experience. Krigger told the New York Times, “In the Virgin Islands, horses are pets, like dogs or cats in the U.S.,” Krigger says. “Our neighbors didn’t know I’d be taking theirs for a ride. My great-grandfather saw me fly past him and couldn’t believe it.”
Five years after his first riding experience, Krigger’s parents gave him a mare. He would challenge playmates to compete in horse racing with him by putting his saddle on his parent’s living room couch and pretending he was riding. Watching the Kentucky Derby on television was a yearly event, Krigger admits, he would never miss.
As a teen, Krigger would walk two hours to the island’s only racetrack, where his fever for the sport only intensified. While at the track, he became friends with jockey Julio Felix, and not long after, Krigger won his first race at age 17. He soon followed Felix to the United States, the land of Derby dreams.
When Krigger arrived in the United States, he traveled to tracks nationwide in order to find an agent or trainer who would invest in his talent and battled to keep his weight down to a slim 110 pounds. In 2001, he landed at Thistledown Racecourse near Cleveland and won 50 races. Krigger moved from one track to another leaving a trail of wins everywhere he landed. Krigger soon got together with a Southern California agent, Tom Knust, who took his career to a more prominent level.
In order to prepare for Sunday’s race, Krigger arrives at a barn each morning around 6:00 a.m. to exercise horses then trains on a mechanical horse called an “Equicizer.” According to Goldencent owner Dave Kenney, “This young man works his butt off.”
Krigger is confident he will win this year’s derby and will be cheered on by his fiancée, children, parents, and especially, Winkfield’s daughter, who will be watching from Cincinnati.
“Someone was going to be the latest African-American going for that honor, and I’m proud to be that person,” Krigger said. “But my Derby dream is not, I’m going to be the first African-American to win the Derby since 1902. My Derby dream is, I’m going to win the Kentucky Derby.”