Many consider Isaac Murphy the greatest American jockey of all time. The son of a former slave, Murphy rose to prominence in a field that was dominated by African American jockeys at the time. By his own account Murphy won 44% of his races. Only 34.5% can be verified in chart books from the era, but it's likely that some of Murphy's races were not covered in the chart books. Either way, Murphy set a standard that no other jockey has met.
Isaac Murphy won with more than a third of his mounts year after year. He won the Kentucky Derby three times, the Latonia Derby five times, and four of the first five runnings of the American Derby, once the richest 3-year-old race in America.
Not only was Murphy known for his skill on horseback but also for his honesty and loyalty. He once refused to let champion Falsetto lose the 1879 Kenner Stakes, even though gamblers enticed him with bribes.
Among others, Murphy rode Emperor of Norfolk, Kingston, Firenze, and Salvator. Aboard Salvator in the 1890 Suburban he defeated Snapper Garrison and Tenney in a historic match.
Isaac Murphy also owned and trained horses during his career. He died of pneumonia at age 36 in 1896.
For years, Murphy's grave was left untouched and nearly forgotten in an abandoned cemetery in Lexington, Ky. Finally in 1967, after a long search, his remains were found, exhumed and reburied at the old Man o' War burial site, and then were moved again, along with Man o' War, to the Kentucky Horse Park prior to its opening in 1978. Today, Murphy rests near Man o' War and some of his illustrious descendants, a champion among champions.
The Bluegrass Community Foundation in Lexington is working to establish an Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden on property once owned by Murphy where his home once stood in downtown Lexington's east end. It will be the first park in the United States to honor the earliest African-American athletes - the Thoroughbred jockeys. Community leaders are also planning on connecting the city's paved bike and jogging trail, the Legacy Trail, which already connects to the Kentucky Horse Park on the north end, to the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden on the east end in the next few years. Learn how you can help at www.isaacmurphy.org.
Awards and Achievements
First jockey elected to the Hall of Fame
Rode 40% winners in 1886
First jockey to win three Kentucky Derbys
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955