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Groundbreaking for Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden Celebrates Unsung Hero of Kentucky Racing

It’s been a long road for the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden but on Monday, July 14, 2014 ground was broken on the community park which will celebrate the memory of one of Kentucky’s most underrepresented stars, jockey Isaac Burns Murphy, and bring Lexington’s horse racing tradition back home to the East End.

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Emcee Thomas Tolliver (top) and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray (bottom) speak to the crowd at the garden groundbreaking.

The groundbreaking ceremony gathered together Lexington Mayor Jim Gray along with other city and community leaders who’ve persevered more than seven years to reach this point. The garden will be a product of public and private funds totaling roughly $700,000.

At the groundbreaking event, emcee Thomas Tolliver—VP of the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden board—heralded his “unspeakable joy” knowing that Murphy will soon be one step closer to being remembered as he should: as “the LeBron James of his day.”

Also in attendance was Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X. Walker who, having written a book on Isaac Murphy, was quoted by Tolliver as saying, “Isaac Murphy is to Lexington, what Muhammad Ali is to Louisville.” The difference being, they noted, that Louisville actually celebrates Ali. Finally, with the garden’s groundbreaking—all of that is changing.

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Located on the corner of Third Street and Midland Avenue, the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden will be a multi-purpose space which will serve as the downtown trailhead of the Legacy Trail which will extend some 12 miles to the Kentucky Horse Park.

More importantly though, the IMMAG will serve as a space to celebrate the achievements of Isaac Burns Murphy as well as other African American contributions to the Thoroughbred industry. The garden will feature a number of art exhibits selected by members of the community, a sunken amphitheater, and bike racks.

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To this day, Murphy is one of the most successful jockeys ever, still holding the record for the highest percentage of racing wins ever at 44%. He was also the first jockey to ride consecutive Kentucky Derby winners and, for 54 years, the only jockey to have three Derby wins.

The location of the garden isn’t the result of pure chance either. In fact, where construction will soon begin, Murphy’s house once stood during the late 1800s and there are plans to surface the foundation of the house as part of the garden. It is also only a few blocks away from where the Kentucky Association Race Track once operated (now roughly where William Wells Brown Elementary is located). That track was open throughout the 1800s and closed with the opening of Keeneland.

While the garden is fully funded and construction will soon be underway, Lisa Adkins, CEO of the Blue Grass Community Foundation, noted that there are still many charitable opportunities available especially for those looking to contribute to the art that will soon be featured in the garden.