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Sultan Zeshan reveals hidden African American connection to the Kentucky Derby

Indian-American writer wants horse racing fans to know that African Americans were a significant part of Derby history
Cover Art (Legendary Equestrians) Photo credit: Lorin Chaser

It’s almost time for the Kentucky Derby. Social elites will join horseracing fans for one of the most celebrated two minutes in sports as the best in equine athleticism prepare for the Run for the Roses 2024. Preparing to celebrate the 150th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 4, is very different this year for bestselling author Sultan Zeshan. Known as the sport of kings, horse racing at this level has been reserved for the wealthy and White. Zeshan says he looks forward to sharing his new literary series this year that uncovers the African American impact on the Kentucky Derby that most know nothing about. Ironically, Zeshan’s research for his book uncovered African American jockeys that have been all but erased from the sport’s history.

“As a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where horse racing legends like jockey Abe Hawkins once raced, I’ve always felt a deep connection to the untold stories of those who are overlooked and the underdog. Their achievements and contributions have been unnoticed for too long, much like my own experiences with being overlooked and facing discrimination growing up as a person of color. Finding inspiration in figures like the Hall of Fame African American race equestrian, the late Edward Dudley Brown, who faced every challenge with resilience, I was called to tell these stories and to bring these gems to enjoy the limelight once again. I was motivated by Toni Morrison’s words: ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,’ ” Zeshan shares.

Sultan Zeshan reveals hidden African American connection to the Kentucky Derby
Sultan Zeshan (Photography by Quincy Delta)

Frustrated with the lack of information about Black jockeys, Zeshan decided to write the stories himself. He partnered with award-winning illustrator Lorin Chasar, and the two created a literary series that immediately made waves across the country.  Zeshan says it is disheartening to see how Blacks were erased from the perceived history of the Derby.

“As a student at Louisiana State University, I took numerous classes related to African American historical studies. I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for these narratives. I wanted to highlight the remarkable stories of African American athletes in both horse racing and Major League Baseball through published works: Gilded Hoofprints: The Story of Edward Dudley Brown and The Legendary Equestrians, Jockey Young’uns: The Legend of the Kentucky Derby’s Youngest Winners, Legendary Equestrians: The Lost Legacies from the Sport of Kings, and Legendary Major Leaguers: The True Story of Moses Fleetwood Walker and his Brother. I want to ensure these pioneers are not just remembered but celebrated, their stories serving as powerful testaments to their tenacity and fortitude. These narratives go beyond mere records of sports achievements; they reflect the human struggle for dignity and equality. My work is a tribute to those who paved the way and a guide for those who feel unseen, ensuring the richness of our history is both honored and remembered,” he says.

The 2024 Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 4, at Churchhill Downs. Sultan Zeshan’s books are available everywhere books are sold.

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