The Kentucky Derby was in its infancy when Baden-Baden carried 17-year-old William Walker to victory in the late 1870s, an era when horse racing was America’s favorite pastime and jockeys were hailed

WilliamWalkerChurchillDownsPhoto225 as national heroes.

An African-American born into slavery in 1860 and only 11 when he rode his first race, Walker was an outstanding and popular jockey during a 25-year career before transitioning to another line of business, in which he enjoyed great success and influence. Upon his death at age 73 in 1933 he had arguably become the nation’s foremost pedigree expert; his encyclopedic memory was legendary in racing and breeding circles, although ultimately only footnoted or entirely ignored by many racing historians.

On April 25, opening night of Churchill Downs’ spring meeting, Walker got some long-overdue recognition for his impact on Thoroughbred racing when he is memorialized with a stakes named in his honor.