John Samples was born in Kentucky around 1860 and grew up around horseracing. He became a jockey and went to work for horse breeder John Harper at Midway, Kentucky. There, Samples began riding a horse named Longfellow.
John Samples, riding Longfellow, won the Monmouth Cup in Long Brach, New Jersey, in 1871. (If the birth year on Samples’ tombstone is correct, he was only eleven or twelve years old at the time.) Longfellow won the Monmouth Cup a second time on July 2, 1872, and a racing print of this victory shows a Black jockey, who is likely John Samples. Samples was Longfellow’s Jockey again two weeks later at the Saratoga Cup, when Longfellow was injured, ending the horse’s racing career.
Longfellow's racing career was over before the Kentucky Derby existed, but Longfellow was the sire of two Kentucky Derby winners, and the grandsire of others.
John Samples later rode another famous horse, Ten Broeck. Astride Ten Broeck, Samples won an important victory in Louisville in 1878 against the horse Mollie McCarthy, ridden by Isaac Murphy.
An article in the Nashville Tennessean in 1905 lamented the end of an era of great African American jockeys. The article says this: “After Old Abe and Brown Dick had retired, the best colored riders to follow were Jim Ross, John Clay and John Samples. … Sample[s], who won the Monmouth cup at Long Branch in 1871 with Longfellow, soon had to leave the saddle on account of his weight, and was at last account on the police force In Cincinnati.”
John Samples worked as a Cincinnati police force for 23 years. When he died in 1912, he received obituaries in the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune and in the Daily Racing Form, published in Chicago. He has a fine monument in Union Baptist Cemetery.