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Lexington Celebrates Life of Legendary Jockey Isaac Murphy

By Gail Hairston

(Oct. 19, 2015) — University of Kentucky students and faculty are well represented during “Celebrating Isaac Murphy Week,” Oct. 19-24, a city-sponsored schedule of events honoring the legendary 19th century African-American jockey. Murphy’s career spanned from the mid-1870s through the mid-1890s; he rode in 11 Kentucky Derbies, winning three of them. By his account, he won 44 percent of his 1,412 races, a victory rate never equaled in 120 years.  

UK English and African American and Africana Studies professor and former Kentucky poet laureate, Frank X Walker’s poetry brought to life Murphy’s story in “I Dedicate This Ride.” Excerpts will be performed live onstage at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 23 and 24, at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Center, 300 East Third Street. Both shows are pay-what-you-can admission. 

Rosie Moosnick and other UK students will host Emory University Professor Pellom McDaniels III on campus Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 21. McDaniels will kickoff the week of celebration at 6 p.m. Tuesday by discussing his University Press of Kentucky-published biography of Murphy, "The Prince of Jockeys."

Born in Frankfort in 1861, Murphy and his mother moved to his grandfather's home in Lexington when his father died as a Union Army soldier during the Civil War. Growing up entranced by the heritage of Thoroughbred racing in the Bluegrass, Murphy raced for the first time when was only 14 years old. He is the only jockey to have won the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks, and the Clark Handicap in the same year (1884). In 1955, Murphy was the first jockey to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. He lived his entire adult life in Lexington, racing, training and breeding the Thoroughbreds he loved; he died of pneumonia in 1896.

The full schedule of Isaac Murphy Week events follows:

"The Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Bums Murphy"
A public talk by Professor Pellom McDaniels III
Tuesday, Oct. 20, 6:30 p.m.
Lyric Theatre and Cultural Center

The Kentucky Horse Park unveils the new headstone of Isaac Burns Murphy with tributes to Murphy and Kentucky's other African American horsemen
Thursday, Oct. 22, 2 p.m.
Man o' War -Isaac Burns Murphy Memorial, Kentucky Horse Park

Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden
Interpretive panels unveiling

Thursday, Oct. 22, 3:30 p.m.
East Third Street at Midland Avenue, Lexington

“I Dedicate This Ride” by Frank X Walker
A reception, at 5:30 p.m., highlights the accomplishments of Frank X. Walker, Professor Pellom McDaniels Ill, the Black Turf Project, the Mustang Troops and the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden Advisory Board

Performance: 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 23, 

Lyric Theatre

Pay-what-you-can admission.

Murphy Family Memorial Dedication
Saturday, Oct. 24, 10 a.m.
African Cemetery No.2, Murphy's former gravesite

“I Dedicate This Ride”

Saturday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m.
Lyric Theatre

"Prince of Jockeys: The Life of Isaac Bums Murphy," an exhibition of photographs, illustrations and texts curated by McDaniels
Through Dec. 11
The Lyric Theatre Gallery

All events are free and open to the public. Sponsored by the Lyric Theatre, Keeneland, the Kentucky Horse Park, the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice, Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, the Race for Education and the African Cemetery No. 2.