Kevin Krigger hopes Saturday will bring a moment that has been 115 years in the making. The 29-year-old jockey will ride Goldencents in an attempt to become the first African-American jockey since 1898 to win the Preakness.
Krigger is attempting to break the mold by simply doing his job. A possible Triple Crown win has been a long time coming for one of the most eloquent riders in the game today. Krigger is No. 54 on the earnings list this year with over $1.3 million in purses and 25 wins in 2013. His success is a testament to a career where he has ridden his way to respect. With a good ride at Pimlico, Krigger has an eye on one of horse racing’s top prizes.
Krigger looks at the winner’s circle as his best personal statement.
“If I win it, I’ll be very happy to win it. An African-American, all of that is me. And I will be happy to win it, period,” Krigger told Yahoo! Sports. “There’s not a huge amount of African-American jockeys period. Maybe they’re not interested in riding. We have a few that are interested in riding. It isn’t an easy road, to get here period. It’s not an easy road. It took me 12 years to get here. I’m finally here and hopefully I can continue to have the success to make it here every year. That’s my goal from here on out, to find that Derby horse, that Triple Crown horse every year.”
There was a time when African-Americans were the best riders in the sport, wildly cheered on by white crowds at the turn of the last century. Fifteen of the first 28 Kentucky Derby races were won by African-American jockeys.
In 1898, African-American jockey Willie Simms won the Preakness on Sly Fox, marking the last time that a black jockey has won the race. Shortly thereafter, Jim Crow laws forbade African-American jockeys from taking their mounts just as the sport was gaining a national following.
The Jim Crow era where intermarriage was illegal in many states and where even renting a room to an African-American in a house where whites lived was against the law. Cemeteries were divided by color as were restrooms and restaurants.
The sports world were rocked by these laws as well and the horse track, where so many black jockeys for years brought green dollars into the hands of white owners, was divided based on skin color.
“Not having athletes to look up to could change the direction of a sport very easily,” Krigger said. “For African-Americans not to have African-Americans to look up to … when you look at Jackie Robinson, you look at those guys who played baseball in those days. African-Americans turned towards baseball, turned towards basketball in those days.”
Now, perhaps, he can be a role model for a community vastly under-represented in the sport from top to bottom.
Krigger is cool, calm and composed, the attributes that make him one of the sport’s rising stars in a career. He grew up riding horses in on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands where he was born and raised and now the 29-year old continues to progress in the sport. He has a fearless riding style and isn’t afraid to take chances.
With Goldencents, he will have to do just that. Despite being one of the favorites, the horse disappointed by finishing No. 17 two weeks ago at the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Doug O’Neill will be looking for more from Krigger and the horse, especially after winning the Derby and the Preakness last year with I’ll Have Another. Goldencents impressed six weeks ago at the Santa Anita Derby beating a competitive field but the step up in class might just be too steep.
Krigger is optimistic, but it will take the very best from horse and rider in this nine-entrant field on Saturday.
But with all the talk about Krigger’s bid for history this week, he vows to not lose focus or not lose sight of his goal to win the race based on its own merits. Nothing more for Krigger, and certainly nothing less.
“As long as you have the ability, you can always make it to these races,” Krigger said. “And I’ve always based myself on my ability”