Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky
Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky
Early Years and Family
Eli Jordan, born into slavery, spent his early years in Lexington, Kentucky. He lived on Fifth Street near the Kentucky Association racetrack in East Lexington and worked as a hostler.1 Archive records show that he had married and was father to four daughters. When he married Belle Douglass in 1877, she became stepmother to Jordan’s daughters.2
Trainer for Williams and Owings Stables
From 1875 to 1877, Jordan was employed as trainer with the stables of James T. Williams and Richard Owings. Jordan’s knowledge and experience would be tested as he worked with young Thoroughbred colts and fillies. In the stable were:
- Spring Branch
- Vera Cruz
Creedmoor, under Jordan’s skill, outperformed the other Thoroughbreds. In 1875, the two-year-old won the Young America and Tennessee Stakes. As a three-year-old in 1876, the stallion finished first in the Cumberland Stakes, the Clark Handicap, St. Leger Stakes and finished second in the Kentucky Derby.3
Trainer for Fleetwood Stables
In 1878, Jordan and his family moved to Frankfort, Kentucky. He had been hired as trainer for Fleetwood Stable.4
Jordan had been working for two years when Reynolds suddenly died. Meta, Reynold’s widow, continued to manage the stable with Jordan's help. She married Llewellyn P. Tarleton in1883. Jordan continued to train the stables’ Thoroughbreds. He also supervised the three stable hands, one horse trainer, and five jockeys who were employed.5
Jordan, for over twenty-five years, oversaw the care, training, and racing of Thoroughbreds:
- Blue Eyes
Jordan’s conditioning of Falsetto became evident when the stallion, at age three, won the:
- Kenner Stakes
- Travers Stakes
- Clark Handicap
- Phoenix Hotel Stakes
Falsetto finished in second place in the Kentucky Derby and was named Horse of the Year in 1879. The stallion later sired three Kentucky Derby winners. Chant won in 1884; His Eminence won in 1901 and Sir Huon won in 1906.6
While Jordan trained Thoroughbreds, he also mentored and tutored young boys who became jockeys. Shelby Barnes, John Stoval, George Knox, Tommie Britton and Isaac Murphy were among them.
In 1891, Jordan revealed information about Isaac Murphy whom he had known as a child. Jordan’s first wife and Isaac’s mother, America, were great friends. They moved into Jordan's household just as baby Isaac was learning to walk. When ten-year-old Isaac was strong enough to hold a bridle, Jordan began to train him to ride. He was quick, said Jordan, and rapidly mastered the secrets of successful jockey riding.7 Although Murphy was riding for the Fleetwood Stable, Jordan encouraged him to accept contracts from other owners. He did. Isaac Murphy became a highly paid star athlete in the 1880s.
Achievements, Death and Legacy
Jordan’s skills, knowledge and devotion to horses kept him employed throughout his lifetime.
His greatest achievement was the training and support he provided to two young boys who became exceptional jockeys. Isaac Murphy and Shelby Barnes were inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.8
Eli Jordan died in Louisville, Kentucky and was buried in the Louisville Cemetery. Records confirm his internment, but his grave site is unmarked.9
Jordan’s name and influence in the industry forever remain in the annals of Thoroughbred racing.
1870 U.S. Census, population schedules. NARA Microfilm publications M593. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. n.d. Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky
Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. (NARA microfilm publication TP). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C. Frankfort, Franklin County, Kentucky
Giles, Yvonne. “African American Horsemen in Kentucky, 1825 to 1950.” In Tales from the Turf. Louisville, Kentucky. J.B. Speed Art Museum
National Racing Museum Hall of Fame Jockeys. Accessed March 19, 2021. https://www.racingmuseum.org
The Breckenridge News (Cloverport, Kentucky).1876-1955. 4 “Louisville Jockey Club Grounds.” October 30,1878. Accessed September 14, 2017
Kentucky Gazette. 1880. “Death of Col. J.W. Hunt Reynolds.” September 25, 1880
Kentucky Gazette. 1880. “Shipped Back.” September 25, 1880
Chicago Daily Tribune. (Chicago, Illinois) 1880. “The Turf: Track Talk.”November 21, 1880
Lexington Leader. 1891. “Ike Murphy’s Real Name.” July 29, 1891
Lexington Leader. 1908. “Eli Jordan.” September 25, 1908.
Kentucky Live Stock Record. “Horses in Training.”. February 26, 1875. Lexington, Kentucky
Kentucky Live Stock Record. “Horses in Training.”. August 5,1876. Lexington, Kentucky
Kentucky Live Stock Record. “Horses in Training.” March 23,1878. Lexington, Kentucky
Kentucky Live Stock Record. “Fleetwood Stock Farm.” January 21, 1882
The Thoroughbred Record. “Falsetto.” July 30, 1904. Lexington, Kentucky
When citing this source in Chicago Manual of Style use this format: Last name, first name of Author. Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry. n.d. “Title of Profile or Story.” International Museum of the Horse. Accessed date. URL of page cited.
- 11870 U.S. Census, population schedules
- 2Tenth Census of the United States, 1880.
- 3Kentucky Live Stock Record. “Horses in Training.” February 26, 1875
- 4Breckenridge News. 1876-1955. “Louisville Jockey Club Grounds.” October 30, 1878
- 5Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. 1880
- 6The Thoroughbred Record. “Falsetto.” July 30, 1904
- 7Lexington Leader. 1891. “Ike Murphy’s Real Name.” July 29, 1891.
- 8National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Jockeys. accessed March 19, 2021. https://www.racingmuseum.org
- 9Lexington Leader. 1908. “Eli Jordan.” September 25, 1908