“I stand with Black Lives Matter, and I stand for justice for Breonna Taylor,” the 35-year-old told CNN. “But as an African-American man involved in an industry that’s not very inclusive to people who look like me, there’s no way that I could sit out on one of the largest race days in the U.S. and not bring awareness to the contributions that African-Americans have given to horse racing.”
Harbut, who owns horse Necker Island, is one of the industry’s few African-American owners. Coming from a family long connected with horse racing for many decades, he believed that participating in the derby could help spotlight the contributions of African Americans to the industry.
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“The history of the Kentucky Derby started with African Americans. The first horse, Aristides, was trained by an African-American named Ansel Williamson and ridden by an African-American jockey named Oliver Lewis,” Harbut said.
“But we are the only Black representation in the Kentucky Derby this year. There hasn’t been any representation of us for the past 13 years,” he continued.
“…This is a race my grandfather participated in in 1962 … and he was not allowed to be listed nor attend that Derby,” Harbut said. “I don’t know how many non-African Americans have had multi-family lineage participate in ownership, but I would think that is a rarity among us as African Americans.
“So that is something I am very proud of. I’m extremely emotional and happy to be able to take on the legacy of my family at this time.”
Ahead of the Kentucky Derby, Louisville activists demanded the event be canceled, arguing that it was not appropriate to organize the famed horse race as people were still hurting from Taylor’s killing.
One of such groups, the Justice and Freedom Coalition, said that a boycott of the event was necessary in order to “put much-needed pressure on the state to not only complete a thorough investigation of Ms. Taylor’s case, but to send a clear message that we will not allow these injustices to continue.”
Despite the protests, Churchill Downs, which hosts the Kentucky Derby, said in a statement Thursday that the race would be held. “We know there are some who disagree with our decision to run the Kentucky Derby this year,” the statement said.
“We respect that point of view but made our decision in the belief that traditions can remind us of what binds us together as Americans, even as we seek to acknowledge and repair the terrible pain that rends us apart.”
The Kentucky Derby, which has never been postponed or canceled over bad weather, was moved from May 2 this year to the first Saturday in September due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s event was, therefore, held with no spectators in the stands, but not without protests from the streets of Louisville.