Isaac Burns Murphy

Isaac Burns Murphy

Riding Career:
1876 - 1895
Birth Date:
Death Date:
Hall of Fame:
Career Mounts:
Career Wins:
530 (34.5%)

Significant Mounts
Buchanan, Emperor of Norfolk, Falsetto, Firenze, Kingman, Kingston, Leonatus, Riley, Salvator, Silver Cloud

Major Race Wins
Travers Stakes (1879)
Clark Handicap (1879, 1884, 1885, 1890)
Latonia Derby (1883, 1884, 1885, 1886, 1891)
Kentucky Derby (1884, 1890, 1891)
American Derby (1884, 1885, 1886, 1888)
Kentucky Oaks (1884)
Illinois Derby (1884)
Champion Stakes (1886, 1890)
Jerome Handicap (1889)
Suburban Handicap (1890)
Freehold Stakes (1890)
Gazelle Handicap (1892)

Awards / Honors
United States Racing Hall of Fame (1955)

Isaac Burns Murphy was an African-American Hall of Fame jockey. The official Kentucky Derby website and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame say that "Isaac Murphy is considered one of the greatest race riders in American history."

Isaac Burns was born in Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky. His father served in the Union army in the Civil War, until his death at Camp Nelson as a prisoner of war. After Burns' father's death, his family moved to Lexington, where they lived with Burns' grandfather, Green Murphy. When he became a jockey at age 14, he changed his last name to Murphy to honor his grandfather.

Between 1877 and 1876 (these dates cannot be correct), Isaac Murphy competed in eleven Kentucky Derbys, becoming the first jockey to win three Derbys: "Buchanan" in 1884, "Riley" in 1890, and "Kingman" in 1891. "Kingman" was owned and trained by Dudley Allen and is the only horse owned by an African-American to win the Derby.

As well, he is the only jockey to have won the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks, and the Clark Handicap all in the same year (1884). Considered one of the great jockeys in American history, Murphy was dubbed the "Colored Archer," a reference to Fred Archer, a prominent English jockey at the time.

Murphy won 628 of his 1,412 starts, a 44% victory rate that has never been equaled and a record about which Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Arcaro said: "There is no chance that his record of winning will ever be surpassed." On its creation, Isaac Burns Murphy was the first jockey to be inducted in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

In 1896 in Lexington, Kentucky, Isaac Murphy died of pneumonia and over time his unmarked grave in African Cemetery No. 2 was forgotten. Then in the 1960's, Frank B. Borries, Jr., a University of Kentucky press specialist, spent three years searching for the grave site. In 1967, Murphy was interred at the old Man o' War burial site. But with the building of the Kentucky Horse Park, his remains were moved again to be buried next to Man o' War at the Kentucky Horse Park's entrance.

Since 1995 the National Turf Writers Association has given the Isaac Murphy Award to the jockey with the highest winning percentage for a given year in North American racing, from a minimum of 500 mounts.

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