Wallace honored by Black History and Heritage Committee
Published 8:21 am Friday, February 10, 2017
The Winchester Black History and Heritage Committee will honor Wallace “Butch” Howard at 2 p.m. Saturday during an event meant to educate the community about the impact black people have had on the horse racing industry but in the U.S. and abroad.
Titled “The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed,” the program will feature keynote speaker James S. Long, a retired jockey of 33 years and friend of Howard’s.
Howard — who was born and raised in Winchester — has been buying, training and racing horses for decades and is known as a knowledgable resource on the industry. But his passion for the sport goes deeper than just business side of racing, focussing on the all but forgotten legacy the African American Community played in the sport’s popularity.
“In the first 28 runs of the Kentucky Derby, 15 of the winners were black men,” Howard said. “Most people don’t realize that.”
He said that what is now known in the U.S. as a predominately white sport not only was the first sport black people took part in, it was a sport that featured a number of black participants at every level.
In addition, black racers and trainers were hugely influential in molding the industry in its infancy.
Black jockeys like Willie Simms and “Monkey” Simon revolutionized how races were run and the type of equipment used, making changes to races that are still instated today.
Others, like Edward “Brown Dick” Brown, overcame slavery through the horse racing industry.
“One of the biggest challenges was that, coming from slavery, it was hard for a black man to hold onto their prestige,” Howard said. “There are accounts of black jockeys being forced to sleep out in the stables, and they had to work harder to keep their weight down because they didn’t have access to what was available to others. They ran a lot.”
However, once the sport became a more mainstream event and money poured into the industry from wealth northeastern cities, African Americans found themselves being brushed aside as trainers and jockeys and given more jobs as laborers.
“When the big money came in from the east, black people were not favored to get that prestige,” Howard said.
He said that he has no problems with the industry itself, and that he is treated without prejudice in his business dealings. The problem, he said, comes from a lack of resources. Howard, as well as many new participants trying their luck in the industry, simply can’t compete with the amount of money and horses the large racing powerhouses bring to the table.
“You know if they have a horse go down, they have 300 others they can replace it with,” he said. “If I have a horse go down, I’m going to have a bad day.”
Another problem is one of perception, Howard said. Thoroughbred racing is seen in modern times as a sport for only the wealthy, which he said isn’t necessarily true.
He said many people enter the industry in the wrong way, by purchasing a yearling that will cost them for years before being able to show any return on investment.
He said a better approach is ton enter the industry informed, find a good horse with the build of a thoroughbred and work on improving its performance.
“I can teach someone the basics of what to look for in a day,” he said. “There’s no way to tell which horse is going to be a winner, because if there was all the good horses would be bought up. But people like me can minimize the risk.”
And educating the underprivileged about the horse industry is exactly what Howard says he would like to do.
“I’m going to open a museum where people can benefit from this knowledge,” he said.
Howard said he would like to create a facility where not just African American youth, but any underprivileged youth could be introduced to the industry and its multi-cultural roots, get to work around horses and begin learning the essential skills necessary to be successful.
It’s a project he’s been working on since 1978.
“More people should know this history,” Howard said. “We know about Daniel Boone. We know about Davy Crockett. The story of these people may serve as a role model to a young person who goes on to have a positive impact on their community.”
He said those role models include Joyce Morten, chair of the committee organizing the event.
“She’s making things happen,” Howard said. “She’s taking steps to educate people and that should be given credit.”
Saturday’s event will be the first of two events the committee is planning during Black History Month. The second event, will take place 3 p.m. Feb. 25 at Broadway Baptist Church and will feature keynote speaker Dr. Roger Cleveland. The theme for the event is The Crisis in Black Education.