Posted online: April 20, 2017 4:12a
Updated April 20, 2017 11:35p
Photos: James Long Facebook
Former jockey James Long was a featured speaker at the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Derby-themed Louisville Storytellers Project on Tuesday evening. He raced for 33 years.
Afterward, on his Facebook page, Long said he enjoyed seeing everyone at the event, “What a wonderful (audience,) had a great time.’’
A brief time later, Long was dead, from injuries sustained in a one-car accident on I-64 in Shelby County. He was on his way home to Frankfort from Louisville.
Winning more than 300 races during his career as a jockey which began in the 1970’s, Long was from Brooklyn, NY and was at one-time the only Black jockey in the State of Kentucky.
During his career, Davis reportedly earned more than $2.7 million from 1976 to 2008 according to the Associated Press.
In his retirement Long operated a popular gathering spot The Longshot’s Cocktail Lounge in Frankfort which featured live R&B bands or a DJ.
Longshot’s was where Danielle Dishman met the jovial rider. “He never met a stranger and loved working the room. He was a big guy in a little body,’’ she said.
Danielle says they become fast friends who were often together because of good friends they had in common. “He did a lot of storytelling about his life as a Black jockey,’’ recalled Danielle. “He traveled all over telling people the history of Black jockey’s, I heard him speak about Isaac Murphy.”
Long loved the history of Blacks in the horse racing industry. “He enjoyed keeping up with the history, he loved it and everyone loved him,’’ Danielle said. “He never bragged about who he was or what he did, just always delighted to tell others what he knew.”
As one of the few Black jockeys of this era, Long was sought as a speaker around central Kentucky.
In 2016, Long was celebrated in Lexington during the Phoenix Festival, an event recognizing the 164th running of the Phoenix Stakes. Long was guest of honor and speaker at the symbolic event which brought light and attention to the Kentucky Association racetrack, where many Black jockey’s rode. After the tracks closing in 1933, the Bluegrass Aspsendale housing projects were built on the same property.
Winchester Black History and Heritage Committee presented the veteran jockey as their Black History month speaker.
Working the race season at Keeneland, Danielle said she saw firsthand how much James was adored in the racing community. “He was like a King at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. I worked out there (at Keeneland) and saw it for myself. I wish he knew how much he was loved. As soon as he came in there, people greeted him, offered him everything. There was no where he wasn’t allowed to go. The track was like his ‘’Hollywood’’ and he was a star, but humble and himself no matter what. He was just regular with us.’’
Early Wednesday morning Danielle’s phone rang twice. “I didn’t recognize the number, so I did a reverse lookup online and saw it was the coroner. A million thoughts ran through my mind,’’ she said. When she called back the coroner asked if she knew James. She said yes and was told that her name was in his wallet as his emergency contact and it was dated just April 14. She was told about the accident and that her friend was gone.
They spoke briefly before his Tuesday speaking engagement in Louisville and was just with him Sunday. “He was with me and my kids for Easter. He didn’t have family here. I taught him how to make deviled eggs. He was washing dishes. I fixed him a plate to take home.’’
James had really become a good friend in just two short years. She didn’t know he had her listed as an emergency contact, however she was honored.
“What I’ll take away is to be a good person because you never know what impact you can make in someone’s life,’’ said Danielle. “You can be a little person with big impact. James was a little giant. Giant in heart.”
Mr. Long is survived by siblings and children.
The Key Newsjournal will update this story as details become available.