There’s a new Derby Eve party in Lexington, and this one celebrates some racing history.
The Legacy Ball will toast the once-hidden history of the black jockeys and trainers who dominated Thoroughbred horse racing through the 19th century.
Former University of Kentucky football player Ron Mack thought about the event when he learned about jockeys including Isaac Murphy, who lived in Lexington’s East End, and who won the Kentucky Derby three times: in 1884, 1890 and 1891. After legal segregation hardened throughout the South, black horsemen were kicked out of top spots in racing, and their accomplishments were nearly forgotten.
“I grew up around the horse racing industry, but it wasn’t until recently I learned that without historic contributions of African-Americans, we wouldn’t have the horse racing industry that we do today,” Mack said. “The Legacy Ball will pay homage to those African-American jockeys and trainers who had a significant impact on the horse racing industry. Isaac Murphy and Oliver Lewis were both from the East End. Who better, than Lexington, to recognize these important historic figures?”
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True to Mack’s football background, the ball will be held May 5 at the new Woodford Reserve Club in UK’s Commonwealth Stadium. The black-tie party will feature food, music, dancing, and a historical exhibit of black racing pioneers. The exhibit will be curated by Pellom McDaniels, author of “The Prince of Jockeys,” a biography of Murphy.
Proceeds from the ball will benefit local charities and scholarships for black students to pursue some kind of equine education, organizers said.
To kick off what organizers hope will be a new mainstay of Lexington’s Derby celebrations, the Legacy Ball Community Kickoff will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Isaac Murphy Memorial Garden on Midland Avenue. The free event will feature historians, crafts and food, and organizers will announce the winners of the Isaac Murphy essay contest. Students from William Wells Brown Elementary School and Edith J. Hayes Middle School were asked to write about “Why Remembering the Legacy of Isaac Murphy is Important.” The winners will receive free tickets to the Legacy Ball.
The Legacy Ball
When: 8 p.m. May 5
Where: Woodford Reserve Club, Commonwealth Stadium, 1540 University Dr.
Price: $100 a ticket
Attire: Black tie or “Derby chic”
Kickoff event: 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, East Third Street and Midland Avenue.