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From the Kentucky Encyclopedia -
|Isaac Burns Murphy, record-setting jockey, born in 1861 on the Fayette County farm of David Tanner, was the child of freedman James Burns. In the fall of 1876 he took Murphy, his mother's maiden name, as his last name. Murphy worked as an exercise boy at Lexington stables, where blacks typically performed many of the jobs, including those of trainer and jockey. Indeed, blacks rode fourteen of the fifteen horses in the first Kentucky Derby, and one, Oliver Lewis, won aboard Aristides. Over the next twenty-eight years, black jockeys won the Kentucky Derby more than half the time.
The superabundance of talented black jockeys made it difficult for Murphy to acquire his first mount, but in 1875 at the age of fourteen he won his first race as a replacement rider. Murphy soon dominated the sport. He won the St. Leger Stakes at Louisville's Churchill Downs in 1877 and a record thirty- five of seventy-five races entered in 1879, including the Travers Stakes in Saratoga, New York. In 1882 he won forty-nine of fifty-one starts at Saratoga, and on several cards he rode winners in every race, feats that acquired him the best mounts of the era. Murphy won the Latonia Derby in northern Kentucky five times, the Clark Stakes in Louisville four times, and four of the first five runnings of the American Derby at Washington Park in Chicago. In 1884, at a time when black patrons were segregated and often harassed in the grandstands at Kentucky racetracks, Murphy won his first Kentucky Derby aboard Buchanan, a horse prepared by black trainer William Bird. Murphy became the first back-to-back and three-time Derby winner by riding Riley to victory in 1890 and Kingman in 1891, and he finished in the money on three other occasions.
After 1885 Murphy rode under a $4,000 annual retainer that gave first choice of his services to Edward Corrigan, a Kansas City turfman who owned Alpine Stock Farm on Bowman's Mill Pike in Fayette County . In addition to his regular pay per race, Murphy received bonuses for winning certain races. On several occasions he made $1,000 in a single day, and he estimated his 1885 earnings at about $10,000.
At season's end, Murphy's weight soared, and he found it harder each year to achieve his riding weight of 110 pounds. He retired to become a trainer in 1892, with a record of 628 wins in 1,412 races during the fifteen seasons he rode. He died on February 12, 1896, survived by his wife, Lucy. In 1955 Murphy was belatedly inducted into the Jockey's Hall of Fame at Saratoga, and in 1977 his body was reinterred at the Kentucky Horse Park in Fayette County.
MARION B. LUCAS, Entry Author
Selected Sources from UK Libraries:
Borries, Betty Earle. Isaac Murphy : Kentucky's Record Jockey. Berea, Ky.: Kentucke Imprints, 1988. Print.
Wall, Maryjean. Kentucky's Isaac Murphy : A Legacy Interrupted : The Intersection of Race and the Horse Industry in the Bluegrass. Lexington, Ky.: [s.n.], 2003. Print.
Walker, Frank X. Isaac Murphy : I Dedicate This Ride. 1st ed. Lexington: Old Cove, 2010. Print.
PS3623.A359 I83 2010, Special Collections Research Center - Room 019