Kendrick Carmouche is set to race in the annual Kentucky Derby this year, becoming the first Black jockey to ride in the prestigious race since 2013.
Kevin Krigger was the last Black equestrian to compete, NPR reported.
Carmouche was introduced to horse racing from his father Sylvester Carmouche Jr. who has been riding professionally since 1978 but retired in 2013 after suffering a broken neck.
“I never thought I was going to have one of my sons in there,” Sylvester said, according to the Courier-Journal. “It means a lot. I told him, ‘God has a plan for you. Just live it…Just to see him in the paddock, I’ll be so happy to be there with him and support him.”
In 2000, when Kendrick was only 16 years old, the Louisiana native embarked on his professional journey, racing all over the country from Texas to Philadelphia to New York, where he is currently one of the most highly acclaimed jockeys.
Over the years, Kendrick has acquired more than $118 million in earnings and approximately 3,400 victories. In 2018, he sustained a hairline fracture in his leg during the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint. Subsequently, he endured a painful six-month road to recovery.
— Barbara (@MarcandBarbara) September 9, 2018
“There was no doubt in my mind I’d come back,” he said. “No such thing. Not in my life. I have two kids. I tell them that regardless of the obstacle, you have to keep pushing.”
Kendrick says that his dedication to his 21-year-long career despite obstacles has helped shape him into the successful rider he is today.
“If you don’t dream it, it’s never going to happen,” the 37-year-old said. “I dreamed it. To be here at this point and how long it took and the hard work that I put in to get to this point […] going to the Kentucky Derby, this is icing and everything on the cake.”
“You have to polish yourself. You have to ride smart,” he added. “You have to do all the correct things and grind it out until that happens. This is where I want to be.”
Though Kendrick exemplifies one of the rare instances of a Black jockey, in the early days of the Kentucky Derby, Black equestrians dominated the sport. According to The Los Angeles Times, 15 out of the first 28 winning jockeys were Black.
As Jim Crow laws became more divisive, Black men were driven out of the sport and did not partake from 1922 to 2000, nearly 80 years later.
Kendrick who insists he’s never experienced racism on the track, reiterated that he wants to inspire people from all walks of life, regardless of skin color.
“I think people just need to open their eyes and realize it doesn’t matter what color you are,” Kendrick said. “You work hard. You’re an honest person. You want the best for you and your family and the team you’re putting together at the track so you can win races. It’s no black or white. It’s just purple or green, whatever you want to call it. We all bleed the same.”
The 147th Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 1 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.