Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton

Historical Marker #2321 in Louisville notes the historical significance of African American jockey Alonzo "Lonnie" Clayton, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1892 at age fifteen.

Alonzo Clayton was born to Robert and Evaline Clayton in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1876. At age twelve, he left home and joined his brother, Alburtus, who was a jockey in Chicago. Alonzo got his start in the racing business as an exercise rider in the stable of successful owner Lucky Baldwin. In 1890, Clayton moved to New Jersey, where he started his professional jockey career as a fourteen year old.

In 1891, Clayton won the Champaign Stakes at Morris Racetrack Park in the Bronx aboard the Kentucky bred Azra. Azra was foaled at the Bashford Manor stables of George J. Long. Clayton rode Azra to the winners circle at the Kentucky Derby in 1892, making him, at age fifteen, the youngest jockey to ever win the noted race. Clayton and Azra continued their winning ways, capturing the purse at the Clark Handicap and the Travers Stakes.

Clayton went on to win many races through the 1890s. He won the 1893 Monmouth Handicap, the Kentucky Oaks in 1894 and 1895, and the Arkansas Derby in 1895. He won 144 races in 1895, and finished third in the Preakness Stakes in 1896.

At the turn of the twentieth century, a trend toward using white jockeys emerged and owners employed fewer and fewer African American riders, who had dominated the sport in the nineteenth century. Some black jockeys went to Europe to race, while others took less glamorous positions in the racing industry. Clayton's success had allowed him to purchase an elegant house in Little Rock, Arkansas, but, being unable to continue as a money-earning jockey, he had to sell his home and business properties. Clayton lived out his last days in California working as a hotel bellhop, where he died in 1917 of tuberculosis.