Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton was the youngest Black jockey in 1892 to win a Kentucky Derby during his time. Many Arkansans have never heard of him. That is even after the fact that the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inducted him in 2012. Clayton was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1876, and moved with his parents to North Little Rock when he was 10. He was one of nine children in the family. His father was a carpenter who was fortunate to have steady work. Clayton would often work as a hotel errand boy and a shoeshine boy to help his family with extra money. It is believe that Clayton was an exceptionally bright child.
At the age of 12-years old Clayton left home to join his brother Albertus, a jockey who was riding at the time for legendary E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin. Clayton, begin to work as an exercise rider for the Baldwin’s stables. He raced in 1890 at Clifton, N. J. for the very first time. His first victory came later on during the same year.
According to Sporting Life Arkansas, “thoroughbred racing had become one of the top sports in America by that time, and it didn’t take long for those on the East Coast to recognize Clayton as a rising star. He won the Jerome Stakes aboard Picknicker and the Champagne Stakes aboard Azra at Morris Park in Westchester County, N.Y., in 1891.”
“On May 11, 1892, Clayton was aboard Azra in the Kentucky Derby. Azra came from behind in the stretch to win the race by a nose, and Clayton became one of only two 15-year-old jockeys to win America’s most famous race.” (Nelson, 2013)
Clayton’s best year for wins was 1895, he won 144 times and finished in the money almost 60 percent of his races. He won the Arkansas Derby that year at the Little Rock Jockey Club’s Clinton Park. He became one of the few Black jockeys to ever compete in the Preakness Stakes at Baltimore, where he finished third.
No one knows why Clayton stopped racing. Many people believe that because of the racism in the 1900s many Black jockeys were drove to stop racing. “As racing began to gain prominence following the Civil War, many horse owners used their former slaves as jockeys. Former slaves tended to gravitate toward the sport because they were comfortable working with horses. Jim Crow laws changed that. The majority of black jockeys were gone by 1910, though some continued to race in more dangerous steeplechase events.” However, the sport was at one time dominated by African-Americans and there were great jockeys during that era. Read more.