If you’ve never heard of former horse jockey Alonzo Clayton, it isn’t surprising. He was one of a handful of forgotten young African American jockeys who accomplished amazing feats, yet never got to reap long-lasting benefits for their accomplishments.
Clayton was born in Kansas City, Missouri and was one of nine children. When he was 10, his family uprooted and moved to North Little Rock, Arkansas. An entrepreneur at heart, Clayton earned money as a shoeshine boy. This provided extra cash for his family. He was also a quick learner and did quite well as a student.
When he was 12, he made a decision that would forever change his destiny. He packed a bag and ran away from home to Chicago, where his brother was a race jockey for horse owner Lucky Baldwin. Clayton was given a job as a stable hand and exercise rider for Baldwin’s horses.
As time progressed, Clayton proved that he was a skilled jockey and he was given the opportunity to race. To everyone’s surprise, he quickly began winning races and then shocked the world when he became the youngest winner of the Kentucky Derby.
The day was May 11, 1892, and the 15-year-old confidently lined up at the starting line riding 3-year-old Azra. The gun sounded, and the duo flew like the wind to victory.
Clayton and Azra continued to win big races, including Churchill Downs in 1893. He quickly became one of the leading money winners on the east coast. In 1895, Clayton went on to win a whopping 144 races.
When the 1900s rolled around racism rose it’s extremely disgusting head, Jim Crow laws were instituted and stable owners began to only use white riders.
African Americans were forced out of the business, and since 1909, there has never been another African-American jockey that has ridden a winning horse in any major American Graded stakes race.
It has been rumored that Clayton then tried to race in Europe, but this fact can’t be confirmed. But what is known, is that Clayton’s winnings didn’t secure his future. He was banned from the sport he loved so much and was only able to live on his winnings for a short period of time.
In 1985, Clayton built a beautiful home that was noted by the Arkansas Gazette as the “finest house on the North Side.” He was also able to develop a commercial building in Little Rock.
After his money ran out, he moved to California where the only job he could secure was a bellhop at a hotel. He died at the age of 41 of chronic pulmonary tuberculosis and is buried in Los Angeles’ Evergreen Cemetery.
The following video provides more insights into the History of African Americans in the world of horse racing.