Considered one of the greatest jockeys in American history, Isaac Burns Murphy's career inspired a long list of firsts. The son of a former slave, Murphy rose to prominence in a field that was dominated by African American jockeys at the time. Born in 1861 in Fayette County, Kentucky, he first worked as an exercise boy at Lexington stables, and acquired his first race mount in 1875 at the age of 14 as a replacement rider. Murphy won the race and launched his career.
He was the first rider to win three Kentucky Derbies, and the only jockey to win the Derby, Oaks and Clark Handicap in one meeting. Murphy ultimately rode 628 champions, winning 44 percent of his races (no other rider since has come close). Murphy was the first rider voted into the Jockey Hall of Fame and the first to win successive Derby crowns (1890 and 1891). This distinction went unmatched until another outstanding black rider, Jimmy Winkfield, won the coveted "Run for the Roses" in 1901 and 1902.
Murphy was known for his skill, his honesty and his loyalty. He once refused to let champion Falsetto lose the 1879 Kenner Stakes, even though gamblers enticed him with bribes.
Isaac Murphy also owned and trained horses during his career. He retired in 1892 to become a horse trainer. He achieved a record 628 wins in 1,412 races during the 15 seasons he rode. Murphy died of pneumonia in 1896 at age 36. He was belatedly inducted into the Jockey's Hall of Fame at Saratoga in 1955. His body was re-interred at the Kentucky Horse Park in Fayette County in 1977.
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