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.”
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.
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.
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
What was next for Brown, now that his jockey career was over?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
reverent, respectful sincerity, Brown jingled his car keys, trying his
best as always to make the best of an unfortunate situation.
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.”