Larry Demeritte becomes first Caribbean trainer at Kentucky Derby despite cancer battle

Abu Mubarik May 06, 2024
Photo credit: WLKY

Larry Demeritte is the first Caribbean trainer to participate in the Kentucky Derby and the third Black trainer in 35 years. Blacks used to dominate the derby, but since 1951, there have only been three black horse trainers.

Certainly, Black trainers, jockeys, and grooms are rare at the Derby, although this was not always the case. In 1875, the inaugural Kentucky Derby took place and the winner, Oliver Lewis, was Black. Ansel Williamson, his horse’s trainer, was also Black, as reported by NPR.

Despite playing an important role in the early history of the Kentucky Derby, Jim Crow segregation forced Black people out of it. Demeritte, who has been around horses throughout his life, is hoping there will be more inclusion today.

“We need to sell our sport better than we do… We need to form more syndicates because it’s getting pretty costly now to own a racehorse,” he told NPR. “It’s like any other sport—car racing—and all of them have syndicates, so there are many sponsors. I feel like that’s what we have to do to let the middle class know in America that it’s not a sport of kings. Anyone can play it, and the reward is so great when you have success in it.”

Demeritte, 74 years old and battling cancer, made his Kentucky Derby debut on Saturday with horse West Saratoga at Kentucky Derby 150.

“I always say, If I could be associated with the negative aspects of my race, why don’t I want to associate someone with the positive aspects?” he told The Athletic. “It’s not about me. It’s about bringing everyone of my race with me, so they could feel proud,” said Demeritte, who also works with a Black assistant trainer, Donte Lowery.

Demeritte is from The Bahamas. He recounted growing up around horses. “My dad was a horse trainer and he put me on the horses back when I was pretty young… I know them before I know myself, and I know I wanted to be in the horse industry,” he told NPR.

“I said ‘Well, I don’t want to be a jockey because their careers don’t last long. I know I’m not going to be a worker, so I have to be a horse trainer because I could do that til’ I die.'”

Despite three separate cancer diagnoses over the years and a rare disease called amyloidosis, Demeritte said he will never give up.

“I feel like I’m here for a purpose. And I think this is my purpose, the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life… Anything is possible. But you have to work at it, you know? That’s the way I look at life.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 6, 2024


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates