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ISAAC MURPHY

JOCKEY (1861-1896)

The jockey who spared the whip and spoiled his opposition when dash races replaced the custom of four-mile heat races, the jockey's ability to take immediate and complete command of his mount was essential. 

One of the first individuals to gain a reputation as a brilliant jockey was Isaac Murphy.  Murphy, an African American, was born in Fayette County, Kentucky, on January 1, 1859.  He rode in his first race at the age of 16 some say he was actually 14 at the time. 

Murphy's style was distinguished by the fact that he rarely used a whip or spur on his horse.  Instead he talked to his horse and was seemingly able to persuade the horse to win for him.  Incomplete records of the era indicate Murphy won 628 of 1,412 races he entered, for a record lifetime winning average of amazing 44%. 

He won the Latonia Derby five times, the American Derby four times, and the Kentucky Derby three times.  Lucky Baldwin, the famous California horseman, at one time paid him $10,000 a year on retainer.  Murphy made enough money to retire by the age of 36, but died of pneumonia at the young age of 37 probably due to the rigid dieting required during his racing career.

Revised: July 18, 2013.