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Byron McClelland

Byron McClelland
Occupation Trainer/Owner/Breeder
Birthplace Lexington, Kentucky Flag of the United States
Birth date c. 1855
Death date June 11, 1897
Career wins Not found
Major racing wins, honours & awards
Major racing wins

Coney Island Derby (1887)
Spinaway Stakes (1890)
Alabama Stakes (1891)
United States Hotel Stakes (1891)
Manhattan Handicap (1891)
Spindrift Stakes (1894)
Phoenix Hotel Stakes (1895)
Clark Handicap (1895)

American Classic Race wins:
Belmont Stakes (1894)
Kentucky Derby (1895)
Preakness Stakes (1896)
Significant horses
Sallie McClelland, Bermuda
Halma, Henry of Navarre, Margrave

Byron McClelland (c.1855 - June 11, 1897) was an American Thoroughbred horse racing owner and trainer. An African American, he was one of the best known horsemen of his era who won the three races that would eventually constitute the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing series.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Byron McClelland's father trained horses and his brother, John W. McClellan (1849-1911), also trained horses in California. Young McClelland worked as a stable boy but, urged into a different career by his mother, left his job to go to work for a local newspaper. Nevertheless, the newspaper's owner operated a horse racing stable and offered the knowledgeable twenty-year-old McClelland a chance to train his horses. Five years later, success led McClelland being hired by H. Price McGrath, owner of the prominent McGrathiana Stud. Within a short time he left to set up his own racing stable in partnership with Mr. Dick Roche. McClelland proved to be not only a very capable trainer, but also an astute judge of horse talent. For the new partnership he turned an August Belmont castoff named Badge into a significant winner. McClelland purchased Badge for a "song" after the prominent owner had given up on the colt. [1] Having accumulated sufficient capital, McClelland chose to go his own way and in November 1889 the McClelland-Roche stable was sold at auction at the Elizabeth, New Jersey race track. [2]


The Sport of Kings

Competing in the "Sport of Kings" was difficult it was dominated by the extremely wealthy who could afford to spend vast sums to purchase the best-bred horses. An African American such as McClelland faced numerous problems including widespread racism, but in the early post-slavery era a lack of capital put him at a severe disadvantage from the start. As such, he and other African Americans, such as Edward D. Brown, had no choice but to adopt a different strategy. They used their skills to make a living training horses for others plus their knowledge of horses to buy young unraced Thoroughbreds for themselves at a price they could afford. Once then developed a young horse into a top runner, they could sell it at a substantial price both as a racer and for its eventual stallion/broodmare value. Profits from the sale of a top racehorse would go to expanding their racing and breeding operation by acquiring new young bloodstock.

The McClelland Stable

By the time Byron McClelland had struck out on his own for the 1890 racing season, he was already gaining national attention. His immediate $2,500 purchase of a yearling filly he named for his wife, Sallie, once again demonstrated his knowledge of breeding and conformation. Among her wins, Sallie McClelland captured the 1890 Spinaway Stakes and set an earnings record for two-year-old fillies of $53,969. She was retrospectively chosen the 1890 American Co-Champion Filly. An injury on May 2, 1891, when she stumbled and fell at the racetrack in Lexington, Kentucky, severely hampered her performance that year with her only major win coming in a two-horse race in the 1891 Alabama Stakes. At the same time, another of his horses named Bermuda won several important races in 1891 including the United States Hotel Stakes and the Manhattan Handicap. After their racing careers were over, both Sallie McClelland and Bermuda were retained by Byron McClelland for breeding purposes.

American Horse of the Year

Byron McClelland's next great success came with Henry of Navarre. Purchased as a yearling, McClelland trained the colt to six wins in ten starts at age two, then to nine straight wins at age three and 1894 American Horse of the Year honors. Henry of Navarre's 1894 triumphs included the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes. Wealthy horse owners such as Pierre Lorillard IV made numerous attempts to buy the horse and in August 1895 McClelland accepted an offer of $25,000 from August Belmont, Jr. [3] Following its formation, Henry of Navarre was inducted in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985.

When McClelland sold Henry of Navarre, the shrewd horseman had already bought Halma as a yearling and in 1895 the colt won the Kentucky Derby and the Phoenix Hotel Stakes. After the colt won the Clark Handicap, McClelland sold him for a reported $25,000 to the wealthy yeast manufacturer, Charles Fleischmann. [4].

Now a wealthy man, as a sideline from his horse racing business, in December 1895 Byron McClelland founded and was first president of a newspaper he named The Evening Argonaut.

In 1896, Byron McClelland completed his wins in each of what later became the U.S. Triple Crown series by capturing the Preakness Stakes. Held that year at the Gravesend Race Track, in Brooklyn, New York, his Preakness win came as the trainer of Margrave for owner August Belmont, Jr.'s Blemton Stable. [5]

The State of New Jersey enacted legislation in 1894 which banned betting. As a result, the state's racetracks closed but nonetheless pressure mounted from anti-gambling groups and politicians in New York State to implement the same laws. The net effect was that racing stable owners began sending their horses to race in England and in its January 11, 1897 issue, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported that McClelland had entered horses in races at Newmarket Racecourse in England. As well, one of the paper's headlines said that "Byron McClelland May Go to Europe with Some Youngsters in 1899." However, Byron McClelland was only forty-one years old when his life and brilliant career came to an end. According to his New York Times obituary, he already had an estimated wealth of between $300–500,000 when he fell ill and died of pneumonia at his Lexington home on June 11, 1897. He was interred in the Lexington Cemetery. [6]

On July 3, 1898 the New York Times further reported that a $10,000 sarcophagus had been constructed on his grave. Earlier, a June 27, 1889 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune about McClelland's success in racing in Chicago and elsewhere also mentioned his character saying he "is a good natured little fellow who possessed a big heart and a lot of friends."

For a few years after his death, McClelland's widow and her brother, John D. Smith, continued racing horses. Sallie McClelland died in 1911 and is buried next to her husband in the Lexington, Cemetery.


  • Trevathan, Charles E. "The American Thoroughbred" (1905) Macmillian


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