Professional News

UK winery, former athletes partner to honor legacy of Black Kentuckians in horse racing

Video by Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 26, 2024) — Kentucky Derby season is a time to gather and celebrate the Commonwealth’s traditions with loved ones. It is also a time to look back on the history of the horse racing tradition and honor those who laid the groundwork for the industry today.

Isaac Murphy was the first horse jockey to win the Kentucky Derby three times (1884, 1890 and 1891). It is presumed he started riding horses around the age of 14 and never looked back. He was known to have strong morals, often refusing bribes to alter race outcomes.

After he passed away in 1896, he was the first person elected to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York. Today he is considered one of the greatest American jockeys of all time, with a winning percentage of approximately 40-44%, according to the Kentucky Derby Museum. Outside of his decorated racing career, Murphy was also known to appreciate a tall, cold glass of champagne.

This fact was one that Allen Carter, University of Kentucky alumnus and former football player, couldn’t seem to forget when he came across Murphy’s story. Carter and his wife Leslie Nichols, Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment graduate and former UK women’s basketball player and coach, own Silver Springs Farm just on the edge of Lexington.

With deep horse racing roots in her family and her love for agriculture, Nichols and Carter had big plans for the farm. One of those plans: create a sparkling wine in honor of Isaac Murphy.

“Leslie’s first cousin Leon Nichols created the Project to Preserve African American Turf History (PPAATH) and we became familiar with Isaac Murphy’s story,” said Carter. “PPAATH works to highlight African Americans in the horse racing industry whose stories were not told when they were living.”

When they purchased Silver Springs in 2012, the couple was just returning from a winery tour in Europe, where Carter’s interest in developing his own wine began. Upon their return to Lexington, Carter was ready to plant grapes and watch his home flourish with vines. Unfortunately, his first plant wasn’t as successful as he’d hoped.

Carter used UK Cooperative Extension resources and met Jeff Wheeler, extension specialist in enology and lecturer for the Distilling, Wine and Brewing certificate. Wheeler came out to Silver Springs to see what Carter had planted, giving him advice on where to plant his next grapes, what types of seeds to use and how to properly care for the vines. That was almost 10 years ago, and the pair are still working together.

“Working with Allen, he has to wear a lot of hats,” said Wheeler. “It’s nice to send him good information that he can immediately use, that’s already validated. That’s the service we provide; defining the things that do work, and then letting him run with the rest.”

With Carter still working out the kinks of growing grapes on his farm, the pair decided that Murphy’s sparkling wine grapes would be grown at the UK Horticulture Research Farm and fermented using traditional method. This means the bottles are filled and placed on a rack upside down, so the yeast settles together and is easy to remove before corking or capping.

“The exciting thing about Kentucky wine is there’s no definitive lines,” said Wheeler. “What exactly you’re growing, how you grow it, it’s all an experiment. We’re really still in the infant stage of the industry as a whole.”

Carter and Nichols have many upcoming projects to honor those who came before them and create a legacy of Kentucky tradition at Silver Springs Farm. To keep up, visit To purchase the sparkling wine honoring Isaac Murphy, call 859-351-9067 or fill out a request form at

Original entrance to Silver Springs Distillery
Jeff Wheeler with Allen
Bottles of sparkling wine fermented

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

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