Black people ruled the Kentucky Derby for years until there was an 80-year hiatus from 1922 to 2000. Kendrick Carmouche, who is now among only a handful of Black jockeys in the U.S., is ready to make his mark as the first Black jockey to race in the Kentucky Derby since Kevin Krigger, who finished 17th on Goldencents in 2013.
“If you don’t dream it, it’s never going to happen,” Carmouche said. “I dreamed it. To be here at this point and how long it took and the hard work that I put in to get to this point … going to the Kentucky Derby, this is icing and everything on the cake.”
Carmouche has been riding professionally since he was 16 following in the footsteps of his father, Sylvester Carmouche Jr., who raced professionally from 1978 till 2013, retiring after a neck injury.
“I never thought I was going to have one of my sons in there. It means a lot. I told him, ‘God has a plan for you. Just live it’…Just to see him in the paddock, I’ll be so happy to be there with him and support him,” Sylvester said of his son’s feat.
Louisiana native Carmouche rode in competitions locally right from his teens and soon became one of the most sought-after jockeys, making his name from Texas to Philadelphia. “You have to polish yourself. You have to ride smart. You have to do all the correct things and grind it out until that happens. This is where I want to be,” he told Courier Journal.
After suffering a hairline fracture of his right femur in 2018 at the Kentucky Downs, a determined Carmouche said he never for once doubted he will be back in the game. He used six months to recover and came back strong, stating he never took pain medications during the recovery period.
He was able to win his first-ever Grade 1 title in December 2020 after he began competing again following the injury. “There was no doubt in my mind I’d come back,” he said. “No such thing. Not in my life. I have two kids. I tell them that regardless of the obstacle, you have to keep pushing.”
With his twenty-one years of riding experience, the 37-year-old said he has never experienced racism in the industry. He believes people only see the talent and not color and encourages all aspiring Black jockeys to jump into the game.
In the past, many Black riders were forced out of the game due to Jim Crow laws and racism. Meanwhile, at the start of the Kentucky Derby, 15 out of the first 28 winning jockeys were Black, according to LA Times. It is about time Black equestrians returned to a sport they grew to love, experts say, adding that financial stability should be an added incentive for young Black equestrians to think of racing professionally. Carmouche has had 3,400 victories in his career with more than $118 million in earnings.
The 147th Kentucky Derby will be held Saturday, May 1, in Lousiville, Kentucky, at Churchill Downs.