In my effort to begin placing myself into my family’s narrative of the history of black Kentucke, I visited a very good friend who lives in Lexington and we toured places previously of no particular interest. This time, we traveled the city as tourists might. So the Kentucky Horse Park was first on our agenda. There, we were able to visit the memorials erected to some of the greatest horses in Kentucky history. Secretariat greeted us first.
Secretariat became the first Thoroughbred in 25 years to win the triple crown. The sculpture at the KHP features his groom Eddie Sweat as well as Ron Turcotte, the jockey who rode him in the Kentucky Derby in 1973. Secretariat.com contends that the Disney film Secretariat about the famed horse dedicated much time and attention to getting an accurate portrait of Sweat, who was African American. In at least one place, I read that the film is exactly a waste of time because Sweat functions as the product of a limited racial imagination. I plan on making an effort to judge Sweat’s character in the film so stay tuned.
KHP is the final resting place for Man O’ War.
Competing within the context of the Great War, Man O’ War was a horse that excited the imagination during bleak times. Many thought of the horse as the greatest Thoroughbred of the 20th century. In the two years he competed, Man O’ War won 20 out of 21 races.
When I tell people outside of Kentucky, and outside of the horse racing world, that Man O’ War is actually buried here, they seem perplexed. I then have to explain what a tremendous tribute it is to the horses as well as to how much care it shows Kentuckians have for horses; though there have been recent reports on the cruelty shown race horses. There are even Thoroughbred cemeteries in the Bluegrass state. The most renowned of these are Calumet and Claiborne (where Seabiscuit grew up) farms. According to Lucy Zeh, author of Etched in Stone: Thoroughbred Memorials, there are “more than 400 Thoroughbred memorials” in Kentucky.
Ostensibly, laying Isaac Murphy’s body directly in sight of Man O’ War’s final resting place extends a high honor to this African American jockey born of the enslaved. History ranks Murphy amongst the greatest jockeys of all time. He won 44% of his mounts and was the first in history to win the Kentucky Derby three times. As a result, he was the first entered into the National Museum of Racing in the pivotal year of 1955.
Though Murphy was initially laid to rest in African Cemetery No. 2, his body was exhumed and moved to Man O’War Park before ultimately coming to rest in its current location. The exhumation proves most interesting because Murphy’s wife Lucy remains buried in an unmarked grave in the African cemetery.
Think about the significance of separating this husband and wife while reading Frank X Walker’s book of poems, I Dedicate This Ride. How much of an honor do you find Murphy’s final resting place?