Spanish records document organized horse races as early as 1783. The first public track was probably the quarter race track at Natchez Under-the-Hill which existed by 1788. In 1795, Richard King opened a race track named Fleetfield. As racing increased in popularity, some plantation owners built their own private race tracks.

The Mississippi Jockey Club, organized by 1807, operated the Pharsalia Track in Natchez, one of the most famous tracks in the South before the Civil War. Noted figures in American horse racing were Adam L. Bingaman and William J. Minor of Natchez, and Minor’s cousin Duncan F. Kenner of New Orleans.

The Pharsalia Race Track, above on an 1864 map, stood north of the Road to Washington (now D’Evereux Drive) and west of the bridge over St. Catherine Creek.

Lexington (1850-75), the most successful sire of the 19th century, trained in Natchez in 1854 under John Benjamin Pryor at Adam Bingaman’s Fatherland Plantation prior to racing in New Orleans.

African Americans and Horse Racing

Prior to the Civil War, most of the jockeys in the South were African Americans, enslaved and free. One of Natchez’s most famous jockeys was Russ Harris, an enslaved jockey who rode horses for planter Adam L. Bingaman. At the age of 82, he stated in a 1912 newspaper interview that Lexington was the “best horse I ever rode.” He also recalled driving the carriage that toured General Ulysses Grant during his afternoon inspection of Fort McPherson and Natchez in August 1863. John Benjamin Pryor, the famed Natchez trainer of Lexington at Fatherland Plantation, married Adam Bingaman’s mulatto daughter Frances Ann. Three sons followed their father’s profession and all were working as horse trainers in New Jersey by 1880.


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