How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders


How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders


Maryjean Wall


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The conflicts of the Civil War continued long after the conclusion of the war: jockeys and Thoroughbreds took up the fight on the racetrack. A border state with a shifting identity, Kentucky was scorned for its violence and lawlessness and struggled to keep up with competition from horse breeders and businessmen from New York and New Jersey. As part of this struggle, from 1865 to 1910 the social and physical landscape of Kentucky underwent a remarkable metamorphosis, resulting in the gentile, beautiful, and quintessentially southern Bluegrass region of today. This book explores the post-Civil War world of Thoroughbred racing, before the Bluegrass region reigned supreme as the unofficial horse capital of the world. The book uses insider knowledge of horse racing as a foundation for an examination of the efforts to establish a Thoroughbred industry in late-nineteenth-century Kentucky. Key events include a challenge between Asteroid, the best horse in Kentucky, and Kentucky, the best horse in New York; a mysterious and deadly horse disease that threatened to wipe out the foal crops for several years; and the disappearance of African American jockeys such as Isaac Murphy.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY




978-0-8131-2607-4 (pdf version)


978-0-8131-3952-4 (epub version)



Civil War, Jockeys, Thoroughbreds, Horse breeders, Bluegrass, Kentucky, African American jockeys, Isaac Murphy


History | United States History