James S. Long, whose career in racing started when he was a senior at the New York School of Printing in Hell’s Kitchen. A high school teacher who was a horse-racing fan invited him to Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., in 1972. Long spent the next two years as a horse walker (hot walker). In 1974, former Boston Celtics owner and breeder Harry T. Mangurian Jr. gave the 4’8”, 98-pound Long his first shot at jockeying. Long’s first win was on July 4, 1974, at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York’s South Ozone Park.
He was the runner up to Chris McCarron who won the Eclipse Award for Leading Apprentice Rider. He got his big break when he won the Dwyer Handicap with Valid Appeal in 1975. Long’s last winning race was at Great Lakes Downs in 2007 and his last mount was at Turfway Park in 2008. Between 1976 and 2008, he made 4,029 career starts, won 309 races and recorded more than $2.7 million in earnings, according to Equibase.
During James Long’s 34-year career, he challenged stereotypes as one of the few black jockeys in horse racing during the 1970s. At one point, Long was the only Black jockey riding in Kentucky.
The success Long experienced under renowned horse owners like Mangurian helped insulate him from most of the institutional racism that has plagued the horse-racing industry. For example, during the early 1900s, Black jockeys were virtually banned from all major tracks, including Kentucky’s Churchill Downs, according to History.com’s Christopher Klein.
Black participation dwindled, and no African-American rode the race between 1921 and 2000.
Long retired in 2009. He worked for Hazel Park Raceway in Michigan until his death, April 18, 2017—the day before his 63rd birthday.