Harbut, who told CNN he was asked to sit out the race, said that while he supports the protesters’ cause, he cannot oblige their request.
“I stand with Black Lives Matter, and I stand for justice for Breonna Taylor,” he said. “But as an African American man involved in an industry that’s not very inclusive to people who look like me, there’s no way that I could sit out on one of the largest race days in the US and not bring awareness to the contributions that African Americans have given to horse racing.”
Activists plan to protest the Kentucky Derby
A founder of the Justice and Freedom Coalition, one of several organizations planning to protest the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, penned an open letter on July 15 calling for a boycott of the race to “put much-needed pressure on the state to not only complete a thorough investigation of Ms. Taylor’s case, but to send a clear message that we will not allow these injustices to continue.”
“We know there are some who disagree with our decision to run the Kentucky Derby this year,” racetrack officials’ statement asserts. “We respect that point of view but made our decision in the belief that traditions can remind us of what binds us together as Americans, even as we seek to acknowledge and repair the terrible pain that rends us apart.”
Pastor Timothy Findley, the coalition founder who signed the July letter, said protesters would meet Saturday at South Central Park, less than a mile from the track, a few hours before post time. Organizers expect at least 2,000 people to attend, he said.
“Racial justice is a goal we all support. And we support First Amendment rights,” Fischer said Wednesday. “We just have to balance the right to protest with our essential duty to preserve public safety.”
Findley said protesters will aim to shift attention from the Kentucky Derby to Taylor’s case.
“Anyone who stands opposed to protesting and stands with Churchill Downs in this moment will be show in an unfavorable light when this becomes history,” he told CNN, speaking specifically of Harbut.
But for Harbut, it’s not that simple.
Strong ties to the world of horse racing
Harbut comes from a long line of horse racing legends who struggled for recognition in the sport due to the color of their skin.
His great-grandfather, Will Harbut, cared for Man o’ War, an American thoroughbred considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time.
“The history of the Kentucky Derby started with African Americans. The first horse, Aristides, was trained by an African American named Ansel Williamson and ridden by an African American jockey named Oliver Lewis,” Harbut said.
“But we are the only Black representation in the Kentucky Derby this year. There hasn’t been any representation of us for the past 13 years.”
However Harbut’s horse finishes Saturday, he believes his own participation is a win for the African American community and hopes to use his position to bring others into the sport.
“We hope to strategically bring other African Americans into this industry and onto the national stage,” he said.