Inside the Paddocks

Author Ockerman reveals the hidden history of Ky. horse racing

He will discuss his findings and book
at dinner series event.

History Center Author Series

• April 25:
Foster Ockerman Jr.
• June 27:
Carrie Cooke Ketterman
• Aug. 22:
Charles W. Arrington
• Oct. 24:
Jay Farrell
• At the Rob Morris Educational Building, 207 W. Jefferson St., La Grange, Ky.
• Tickets $20 members; $22 non-members
• (502) 222-0826

LA GRANGE, Ky. (April 2019) – While the equine industry in Kentucky dates as far back as the 18th century, thoroughbred racing itself is one of America’s oldest professional sports. There are many stories about racing not known to the public that author Foster Ockerman Jr. has uncovered for his latest book, “Hidden History of Horse Racing in Kentucky.”
From fast fillies to colorful jockey silks to betting it all on a favorite or a longshot, Ockerman has delved into the history of horse racing to reveal how it all began. He uncovered such hidden gems as the fact that horse races were run on the main streets of early Kentucky towns, famed politician Henry Clay was as good a horse breeder as politician, and that African American jockeys were America’s first professional athletes.
Ockerman has included many topics about horse racing, such as forgotten farms associated with the equine industry, the history of several important race tracks, Civil War racing in Lexington, Ky., and how betting – not gambling – on horses, has evolved over the years. While conducting research for his book, Ockerman said he “actually became very intrigued with how betting evolved.”
Kentucky’s current state constitution, adopted in 1891, “prohibited gambling but allowed for wagering on horse races,” writes Ockerman. Three years later, the new grandstand at Churchill Downs included 20 stalls for bookmakers. But the grandest “bookie enclosure” in the country was Floral Hall (also called the “round barn”) at Lexington’s Red Mile.

Photo provided

Foster Ockerman Jr. explores the very beginning of horse racing in Kentucky.

Ockerman will present a program on his book at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at the Oldham County History Center in La Grange, Ky. The program will take place inside the Rob Morris Educational Building, 207 W. Jefferson St. in La Grange.
Ockerman was contacted by The History Press to write this book when “one of the editors came across my history of Lexington on the Internet. We tossed some ideas back and forth, and this one caught their interest,” he said.
For “Hidden History of Horse Racing in Kentucky,” he used “a great variety of sources, from old newspapers to books to articles I found on the Internet. The most fun was the three days I spent researching in the Keeneland Race Course library. A beautiful facility and very helpful staff.”
Established in 1939, the Keeneland Library is a public research and reference library that is one of the world’s largest repositories of information related to the thoroughbred. The library houses nearly 30,000 books, approximately 1 million photographic negatives and thousands of newspaper and magazine articles about all aspects of the equine industry.
Ockerman said there is a lot for readers to enjoy in his book. Sections that stand out that readers may like the best are “the chapter about a church built by horses. Or perhaps that the only thoroughbred races run under the Confederate flag were held in Lexington at the old Kentucky Association track.”
For this program the audience will learn “where long forgotten tracks were, how good intentions almost killed horse racing, where the Preakness trophy originated and more,” he said.
Ockerman is a Lexington native, seventh generation Kentuckian and very familiar with the Oldham County area. “My mother’s family (Hornsby) is from Eminence (Henry County). Her mother was raised on Booker Brook Farm, and I visited there as a child.”
He is a local historian and has practiced law for 42 years. A graduate of the University of North Carolina (1974, American History) and the University of Kentucky College of Law (1977), Ockerman has represented or served on the boards of numerous nonprofits and foundations at the local, state and national levels.
Ockerman is a founding trustee of the Lexington History Museum Inc., as well as current president and chief historian.
“About 20 years ago, Lexington’s mayor asked me and another lawyer to start the museum,” he said. “I served on the board of trustees and as general counsel.”
Three years ago, during a particularly challenging time for the organization, “I agreed to become the part-time president and chief historian to try to revive it. I’m happy to say we have been successful and its future looks good.”
For his book he consulted some books in the museum library and used a couple of images from its postcard collection. “Hidden History of Horse Racing in Kentucky” is Ockerman’s sixth book. He is currently working with another local historian to write “The History Lovers Guide to Central Kentucky’ for The History Press. “We hope to have it out in time for when the Breeders Cup returns to Lexington in 2020.”
This program is part of The History Press-Arcadia Author Dinner Series. Ockerman will have copies of his book available to sign and sell. A light meal will be served and cash bar available.

Ockerman will have copies of his book available to sign and sell. A light meal will be served and cash bar available. Cost is $20 per person for members of the Oldham County Historical Society or $22 for non-members. To make reservations call (502) 222-0826.

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