The day Edward D. Brown became the first African-American to win the Belmont Stakes
Jockey who guided Kingfisher to victory in 1870 later found success as an owner and trainer
Edward D. Brown went to Elmont, New York, and conquered the Belmont Stakes, becoming the first African-American to win what would eventually become the third leg of the Triple Crown.
The race featured seven of the top 3-year-olds: the favorite Kingfisher, Doneraile, El Dorado, Foster, Midday, Nellie James and Stamps. Brown was atop Kingfisher, which came from the stable of Daniel Swigert, nephew of Robert Alexander, who was the former slave owner of Brown.
A June 5, 1870, New York Times recap of the event detailed how Nellie James and Kingfisher jumped to the head of the pack out of the gates, with Midday in third. As the horses roared past the judges table, Brown pushed Kingfisher into the lead, with Midday overtaking Nellie James, Doneraile in third, Stamps in fourth, Foster in fifth, and Nellie James and El Dorado bringing up the rear.
Past the base of the hill and as the horses came back into view toward the final stretch, it became clear that Kingfisher was going to take the crown, as Brown had the horse in front of the pack by two lengths.
Midday still maintained second place, with Foster on his heels and Nellie James by the latter’s side. Foster attempted to work his way out of the tie with Nellie James and make a late push for second place, but Midday made a maneuver to prevent Foster from overtaking his position as runner-up and even forced the colt to pull up.
The order wouldn’t last for long, as Foster made another attempt to take over second place and was successful the second time around. With Midday in the rearview mirror, Foster set his sights on Kingfisher, who only beat the former by a half-length in 2:59 1/2.
Brown received $3,750 for winning the race.
Four years later, Brown raced in his last official race because he was unable to maintain the weight necessary to be a jockey. That, however, did not stop him from experiencing immense success as a trainer. Seven years after becoming the first African-American to win the Belmont Stakes, Brown won the Kentucky Derby as a trainer with Swigert’s horse, Baden-Baden, and four years later he also was responsible for the tutelage of Swigert’s Hindoo, the 1881 Kentucky Derby winner.
Brown also owned, trained and sold two more Derby winners. This was the case with Ben Brush, whom Brown saw the potential in and bought as a weanling. Brown trained the colt and sold it to the Dwyer Brothers Stable, and the horse went on to win the 1896 Kentucky Derby. Two years later, Brown purchased Dr. J.D. Neet’s Plaudit, trained the horse and sold it to John E. Madden, who went on to win the 1898 Kentucky Derby. Willie Simms, another Hall of Fame African-American jockey, was the jockey for both of those horses.
As the principal owner, Brown trained fillies Monrovia and Etta, the 1893 and 1900 Kentucky Oaks winners, respectively. The Kentucky Oaks is run the day before the Derby and is the premier race for fillies.
In 1906, Brown died of tuberculosis in his native Lexington, Kentucky. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1984.