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Black History Fact of the Week: Isaac Burns Murphy

OW Staff Writer | 5/18/2011, 5 p.m.

On May 13, 1891, jockey Isaac Burns Murphy became the first to win the Kentucky Derby three times. The last time was on Kingman, the only horse owned by an African American to win a Derby. On two previous occasions he won on Buchanan (1884) and Riley (1890).

He was born Isaac Burns on April 16, 1861 near Frankfort, Ky., to James Burns, a bricklayer, and a laundry woman mother whose name is unknown. During the Civil War, his father joined the Union Army and later died in a Confederate prisoner of war camp. After his father's death, Murphy and his mother moved in with her dad, Green Murphy, in Lexington, Ky.

At the age of 14, a Black trainer, Eli Jordan, noticed his small size and helped Murphy begin training for his first race. By the end of 1876, the teen changed his last name to Murphy to honor his grandfather. Just a year later he rode in first Derby, coming in fourth.

Murphy was also the first jockey inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, with an unmatched to this day 44 percent winning record according to him. However, only 34.5 percent can be verified by chart books, still setting the standard for jockeys worldwide.

The hall of fame inductee died of pneumonia at the age of 36 in 1896.

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