Jockeying into Position: Latinos in Horse Racing in Aiken, S.C.

This exhibit celebrates the contributions made by Aiken’s Latino Community to the local equine industry. The exhibit is located in first floor gallery of the Hall of Fame.

Horseracing, one of the oldest and most celebrated sports in America, is embedded in Southern culture and identity. This traditional pastime reflects the most noticeable population change in the Southeast through the rise of Latino jockeys in the twentieth century. In the 2020 Triple Crown races, (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes), 64% of the jockeys were Latino. In 2015, Mexican Victor Espinoza and American Pharaoh won the Triple Crown for the first time in 37 years and proclaimed, “I’m the luckiest Mexican on earth!” The equine industry is a business in which Latino jockeys, grooms, and trainers take pride in their contributions to horse racing and to American culture in general.

Lisa J. Hall, Museum Coordinator for the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, and Gabrielle Kuenzli, a professor of Latin American history at the University of South Carolina, are documenting the history of the unstudied Latino jockey population in the American South using the case study of the Aiken Training Track to illuminate the experience of the growing Latino community in a largely rural southern community. The Aiken Training Track has produced many successful racehorses, such as Pleasant Colony, Swale, Kelso, and Palace Malice. In addition, the track employs many Latino horsemen and women as grooms, exercise riders, and as trainers. The large number of Latino jockeys mirrors broader population trends in SC. The Latino population is the fastest growing population, having increased by 147.9% in SC from 2000-2010.  

The first part of this pilot exhibit is now on display at the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum through November 22. The exhibit highlights the contributions that Aiken’s Latino community have made to the local horse industry. The contributions made by Latinos worldwide will also be highlighted. A goal of this exhibit is to continue to collect the stories of those who are not in the current exhibit. Interviews may be carried out in Spanish or English, and individual’s backgrounds, such as experience in Latin America in ranches or jockey schools, are most welcome. Those interviewed may identify themselves or remain anonymous.


Those who have photographs and/or stories to share are encouraged or for more information about the exhibit may contact Lisa J. Hall, Museum Coordinator at 643-2121 or [email protected] or Gabrielle Kuenzli, Assistant Professor of History at 803-587-0611 or [email protected].
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Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum
"Home of Aiken's Racing Champions"
Information: 803-642-7631
[email protected]
Located in Hopelands Gardens at 135 Dupree Place (off Whiskey Road) Aiken, SC 29801
Alberto Negrete calls Aiken home, but his family roots are from Mexico. He was a groom for Legacy Stables for 20 years. He was also a trainer for Azalea Stables, Lansdon Robbins and Fox Hill Farm.
Alfonso García, of Michoacán, Mexico, began working with horses Belmont Park in 1986 for the great Woody Stephens. Garcia came with Stephens’ assistant, Billy Badgett, with some of his horses to train in Aiken. Garcia now works for Legacy Stable in Aiken.
Antonio Sambrano, Sr. worked as a groom for  Dogwood Stable for 26 years. He and his family are originally from Mexico, but have called Aiken home for over 30 years. He and his wife have five children, two of which work or have worked as trainers, grooms and farriers.
Antonia Sambrano, Jr. has worked in the equine industry for over 20 years. He is a farrier and has worked as a groom and trainer.  A native of Mexico, he is the son of Antonio Sambrano, Sr. and brother of Victor Sambrano.
Efraín Sánchez has worked as a groom with trainer, Glenn Thompson for over 20 years. He worked with horses in Mexico prior to coming to the U.S.
Ivan Aguirre works with trainer, Glenn Thompson as a groom. He is from Mexico and brings over a decade of experience working at racetracks in Kentucky.
Javier Lopez grew up in San Juan Palmira, Mexico. He came to Aiken to work as a groom for trainer, Jack Willis at Belmont Park and in Aiken. He also worked for trainer, Mike Freeman and for Legacy Stable with Ron Stevens.
Javier Rodriguez is from Michoacán, Mexico. He came to the U.S. in 1992. When Rodríguez began working with horses, he began at Hill N’ Dale Stable. Rodríguez then started working for Dogwood Stable and for Legacy Stable and has been with them for over 25 years.
Justin Lorenzo Rivera comes from a family of horse trainers. His parents, Tirso and Beth Rivera train in California. Justin has worked as an exercise rider, groom and gate starter. He and girlfriend, Logan Bearden train horses under the name Popular Place Stable in Aiken.
Vanessa Feliciano is of Puerto Rican heritage. She was an exercise rider for 8 years for Dogwood Stable and Manor Valley Stables. She also freelanced for numerous outfits during those years. Feliciano is now a nurse in Augusta, Georgia.
Victor Huerta is originally from Mexico. He has worked as a hot walker and assistant trainer. He has worked with Buckland Farm and trainers, Al Darlington and Mike Keogh. His favorite horse is Pleasant Colony.
Victor was an exercise rider for Dogwood Stable and Legacy Stable, He is originally from San Juan Palmira, Michoacan De Ocampo, Mexico. He has been a jockey at the Aiken Trials and has also ridden his trick horses in past Aiken Trials. He now works as a farrier.
The exhibit is currently on display through November 22, 2020 in the first floor gallery in the Hall of Fame.