Edward Brown was born into slavery in 1850, but that did not stop him from becoming a standout jockey and then one of the top trainers of the 19th century.
A native of Lexington, Ky., Brown was sold to Robert A. Alexander, the proprietor of the famous Woodburn Stud Farm, when he was a 7-year-old. Brown worked as a groom and developed a keen understanding of horse breeding and how to condition horses for racing.
Brown’s small stature and skill with Thoroughbreds afforded him the opportunity to become a rider. Following his emancipation after the Civil War, Brown remained an employee of Alexander and rode several of his horses to victory in important races.
Alexander died in 1867, and two years later Woodburn Stud manager Daniel Swigert left to establish Stockwood Farm. Brown accepted an offer to ride for Swigert’s new stable, and in 1870 he won the Belmont Stakes aboard Kingfisher. However, as he developed into a young man his weight gain hampered his ability to successfully compete in flat racing.
For a short time, Brown switched to riding steeplechase horses. With his vast knowledge of Thoroughbreds Brown turned to training Swigert’s horses in 1874. In 1877, he conditioned Kentucky Derby winner Baden-Baden and was the trainer of the future Hall of Fame colt Hindoo before he was sold at age 2 by Swigert to the Dwyer brothers.
Brown eventually went out on his own. His keen knowledge of horses and breeding saw him buy unraced horses that eventually became some of the best racers during the final decade of the 19th century. In 1893, Brown won the Kentucky Oaks with Monrovia, a feat he accomplish again in 1900 with Etta.
Because he lacked the necessary capital to compete with the millionaire owners who dominated the sport, Brown used his limited funds to buy horses he believed had great potential, then trained and raced them to the point where their success attracted purchase offers from other wealthy owners. Such was the case of Ben Brush, a colt Brown bought in partnership as a weanling. Sold to the Dwyer brothers, Ben Brush won the 1896 Kentucky Derby. Similarly, Brown purchased Plaudit from breeder Dr. J. D. Neet and trained the colt until selling him to John E. Madden, who then took him to victory in the 1898 Kentucky Derby.
Brown used his profits to build a quality racing stable that competed under the name Ed Brown & Co. After a career that spanned 30 years, poor health forced his retirement in 1903. He died three years later in Louisville. He was reportedly one of the wealthiest African-Americans in Kentucky at the time of his death.
Edward D. Brown was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1984.
Brown trained Ben Brush, 2-year-old champion