Catawba College Grad Bringing Diversity to Kentucky Derby and Thoroughbred Industry
October 2, 2020
Raymond “Ray” Daniels calls Catawba College the place “where I, and others, felt that it was a comfortable space for us to dream of what our future would hold.”
Daniels, a Lexington, KY, business owner, graduated from Catawba in 1991 with a degree in Business Administration. In those years, even though he dreamed big, he may not have been dreaming big enough. In September, Necker Island, a thoroughbred that Daniels co-owns with two others, finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby.
Daniels calls it “a dream to have a horse in the Derby.” It was the fourth fastest Derby in history, so Necker Island’s owners --- Daniels, Greg Harbut and Wayne Scherr of North Dakota --- are feeling good about the ninth-place finish among the 16 thoroughbreds. Necker Island had 50-to-1 odds of winning America’s most prestigious horse race.
Because two of the three co-owners are black, the owners received a lot of media attention during the Run for the Roses. It had been 13 years since a horse with black ownership ran in the Derby.
The thoroughbred industry in the U.S. is a white dominated sport. Daniels, who is a member of the Catawba Board of Trustees, and the other black co-owner, Greg Harbut, owner of Harbut Bloodstock, want to bring awareness to the industry that inclusiveness works.
“The sport was built on the backs of black labor,” Daniels says. “The original jockeys were majority black. Your trainers, your groomsmen, your horse shoe’ers, you name it, they were black.” Black jockeys won 15 of the first 28 Kentucky Derbies, beginning in 1875, before blacks were denied the position of jockey.
Harbut’s great-grandfather, Will, was groomsman for the legendary Man o’ War, and his grandfather, Tom, was part-owner of Touch Bar. Tom Harbut wasn’t allowed to attend the 1962 Derby that Touch Bar ran or have his name listed as part-owner because he was black.
Daniels wants more representation of people of color in the horse-racing industry. He and Harbut have created the “Living the Dream” Syndicate that they hope will attract more minority owners to the industry. They have also set up the Ed Brown Society to award scholarships to minority students interested in the industry. Edward Brown was a slave sold to the Alexanders of Woodburn Stud in Woodford County, KY, who became the horseman to win the Belmont in 1870 on King Fisher. He also trained Kentucky Derby winner Baden-Baden in 1877. He was not inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame until 1984.
“We want to introduce more minorities in the sport,” says Daniels. “There are opportunities for careers. This is a $100 billion industry that employs over one million people.”
Daniels, who was born in New York City, grew up riding horses and going to the track. He sees more horses in his future. The former Director of Diversity for Waffle House, he owns Equity Solutions Group, a strategic sourcing company, and is still in the food industry. In 2019, Catawba awarded him its Distinguished Alumni Award.
Necker Island is off to the races, as well as the three owners. The thee-year-old colt is scheduled to run in Graded 1 Stakes races. “We’re in it to win,” says Daniels.