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J. D. Mooney

Jockey J. D. Mooney was the son of a riverboat captain and horse breeder from New Orleans.

J. D. Mooney

T he date of May 17, 1924, marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Kentucky Derby; the classic event was solemnized by the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” for the first time before the race. As the race began, Louisiana jockey J. D. Mooney and Black Gold broke from the pole position and collided with Bracadale in the first quarter-mile. But to everyone’s surprise, Mooney recovered and patiently guided his mount through the field and down the backstretch to finish a half-length ahead of Chilhowee and Beau Butler, winning the Golden Jubilee of the Kentucky Derby in a little over two minutes and five seconds.

Mooney was believed to have been born in 1896 or 1897 in New Orleans. He was the son of a riverboat captain who also bred and owned racehorses. Jockeys are often associated with the horses they ride to victory, and so it is with Mooney and Black Gold. The undersized jet-black thoroughbred from the Indian Territory of Oklahoma got its name in honor of the oil discovery on the ranch of owners Al and Rosa Hoots.

In 1923 Mooney won the Louisiana Derby aboard Ampole but thereafter devoted his energies full time to Black Gold as both groom and jockey. Mooney often turned down opportunities to ride other horses in order to work with Black Gold and trainer Hanley Webb. He was aboard Black Gold for all of the colt’s eighteen races, winning nine, including the Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs.

The duo began the following year with a decisive six-length victory in the Louisiana Derby in a driving rain, on January 8, 1924. Mooney and Black Gold were undefeated in four races leading up to the Kentucky Derby. After winning the Derby Trial, Black Gold was the favorite on race day, although many questioned Webb’s training and Mooney’s skills.

All doubts were resolved when Mooney and Black Gold crossed the finish line in first place. The Triple Crown as known today was still undefined in 1924, so Mooney and Black Gold traveled instead to Thistledown Racecourse in Ohio, winning the Ohio State Derby, which was followed by a victory in the Chicago Derby. This marked the first time a horse and jockey had won the premier stakes race in four different states: Louisiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois.

The day after his death in 1928, following an injury at the New Orleans Fair Grounds, Black Gold was buried in the infield of the racetrack. The Black Gold Stakes continues to be held in honor of the legendary racehorse, with the winning jockey placing a wreath of flowers on the grave. During Mooney’s lifetime, he would occasionally visit the Fair Grounds for this occasion to accept the floral tribute from the winning jockey and walk to Black Gold’s grave while spectators rose in silent tribute.

In 1933 Mooney retired from racing, having finished in the money in 799 of his 2,663 races. He became a trainer, most notable for Crafty Lace, the 1962 Canadian Horse of the Year. Mooney’s eldest son, John J. Mooney, was a racing executive who once headed the Ontario Jockey Club and was elected to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. His grandson, Michael Mooney, was the director of publicity at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita racetrack in California.

Mooney was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1976 and the Fair Grounds Racing Hall of Fame in New Orleans in 1999. He died in 1966.