Kevin Krigger always wanted to be a jockey.
He rode the arm of the sofa at his home when he was tiny, later graduating to a horse he was gifted by his grandmother. By the time he was a teenager, he had won his first race at the Randall James Racetrack in his hometown of St. Croix. His heart was set and his ambition clear: he wanted to join the ranks of the great Black jockeys who once dominated the sport of horse racing.
Krigger has realized his dream, racing in California and even taking the top spot April 6 at the Santa Anita Derby, the first Black jockey to win there since horse racing began there 78 years ago. On May 4, Krigger, 29, will be in the saddle steering Goldencents, a thoroughbred with a good shot at taking the title at the 139th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. If he is successful, he will join the ranks of the great Black jockeys who once dominated horse racing.
The last time a Black jockey won the Kentucky Derby was 1902, when Jimmy Winkfield crossed the finish line first atop Alan-a-Dale; he also rode the winner in 1901. He would become only the second Black man to ride in the race since 1921. The first was Marlon St. Julien, who jockeyed Curule to a seventh-place finish in 2000. According to the Associated Press, Krigger keeps a picture of Winkfield in his locker.
The scarcity of Black jockeys in horse racing today contrasts sharply with the numbers who used to participate in the sport. In the first Kentucky Derby, run in 1875, 13 out of 15 of the jockeys were African American and 15 of the first 28 jockeys who won the derby were Black, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Many of the Black jockeys who rode in the contest in the early days also cared for the horses. Some were former slaves, according to historical accounts.
For his part, Krigger has told reporters that he is anxious to win at Churchill Downs as a rider, not necessary as an African American.
Back in St. Croix, his success is stirring national pride, according to news accounts. A parade is scheduled to celebrate the participation of Krigger and fellow Virgin Islander jockeys.
Krigger, who is engaged and has four children, will be cheered on by dozens of loved ones on May 4 as he attempts to join the ranks of the greats who came before him.
Related Sam Lacy AFRO Archive articles on historical barriers facing Blacks in the racing industry: