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Fair Grounds: Jockey Martin Brown Retires

Fair Grounds Race Course
Photo: CDI
A Louisiana legend – 67-year-old African-American jockey Martin Brown – officially retired with a race named in his honor during last weekend’s Santa Super Saturday at Fair Grounds.


How long had he been in the saddle?


“About 60 years,” said Brown when interviewed in the winner’s circle by Fair Grounds racing analyst Katie Mikolay after Saturday’s sixth race. “I started when I was 7 or 8 years old and I’m 67 now.”


Dressed in snappy royal blue silks, presumably his favorite set, Brown posed for a winner’s circle photo surrounded by the bulk of Fair Grounds’ jockey colony as well as the valets and some favorite trainers who welcomed the opportunity to honor their peer.


Brown’s last trip to the Fair Grounds winner’s circle as an active rider came on March 13, 2009 aboard Ashley Cornell and Daniel Ray’s Almost Mary for trainer Wade Ladner, and that was his second local win as a 64-year-old that season.


Although winless at the local oval over the next two seasons, Brown remained active, galloping for an extensive clientele of trainers in the mornings before accepting additional mounts in the afternoon. In September 2010, Martin was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and later last season he suffered a horrific spill which eventually was to end his athletic career.


What was next for Brown, now that his jockey career was over?


“One day at a time,” said Brown, “because right now I am disabled and sit on top of this chair with broken vertebrae, and I am just glad taking it one day at a time.”


When interviewed last season, Brown related some highlights of his own history, which began with match races while growing up in Cajun Country. As a youngster he dominated bush tracks in Lafayette, Lake Charles, New Iberia, and just about anywhere else in the state of Louisiana.


“In 1962, when I was 17-years-old, I came to Fair Grounds to start riding here,” Brown said. “I was the only black jockey and things were tough, but let me tell you, things were tough for all of us back then. If you could ride, then you got a shot, if you couldn’t, you didn’t.”


In 1968, Brown began race-riding for Jere Smith, working a circuit of Detroit and Chicago as well as New Orleans, and in 1971, Brown was believed to be the first African-American jockey to ride in Chicago when Spanky Broussard named him on Doorstep Waif, who would win with Brown aboard.


What did Brown consider to be his biggest accomplishment?


“Coming back and being able to shine for the second time,” said Brown, who returned to winning races in Louisiana after being inactive as a jockey for more than two decades.


Jockey Robby Albarado, who with seven jockey championships at Fair Grounds has more than any other rider in Fair Grounds history, had this to say last year when asked his opinion of Martin Brown. 


“I have nothing but admiration for his longevity and passion for the game,” Albarado said. “He works as hard and looks as fit as any jockey in the room. He’s a very spiritual person and nobody tries harder in a race. He’s living his dream and he’s a great person.”


Brown is also very resourceful, as exemplified by his actions during a recent Roman Catholic mass at Fair Grounds when no one remembered to bring a bell to ring at the appropriate times in the service.


With reverent, respectful sincerity, Brown jingled his car keys, trying his best as always to make the best of an unfortunate situation.


“I really appreciate what Fair Grounds did for me last weekend,” Brown said Wednesday morning during training hours. “That was very nice of them and I really want to thank everyone at Fair Grounds. It was like I was telling (trainer) Neil Howard this morning. It was like getting to hear your own obit before you die. Most people don’t get to hear all those nice things about themselves while they’re still around, and I plan to be around, so I hope everybody keeps me in mind. And now, I’ve brought a bell with me this time so we’ll be sure to have one on hand this Sunday.”




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