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Person Profile

Garrett Davis Lewis

Hutchison Station, Bourbon County, Kentucky

Emily Libecap, Graduate Student Intern

Childhood and Family

Garrett Davis Lewis was born in 1862 in Fayette County, Kentucky, to Henry and Mary Lewis. He was one of eight children. His siblings were Mary, Martha, Isaac (who was also a jockey), Sallie, Oscar, Lutita, and Martin.1

Garrett Davis Lewis is often misidentified as George Garrett Lewis. A few sources mistake him for or connect him to Oliver Lewis or Isaac Lewis on account of their last names.2

Jockey Career

Lewis began riding at sixteen years old for Byron McClelland, a prominent owner and trainer from Lexington. He was a frequent rider for McClelland over his short career. He also rode for J. S. Shawhan from Cynthiana, Kentucky. In 1880, Lewis rode the horse Fonso for Shawhan in the Phoenix Stakes and took first place. Fonso was a strong horse with a famous bloodline, and the jockey-horse pair worked well together.3

The 1880 Kentucky Derby

Lewis is best known for winning the 1880 Kentucky Derby riding Fonso. The race was quite dramatic, as all five horses in the field led the pack at some point throughout the race. Also riding in the race was Isaac Murphy, another famous African American jockey. Lewis rode Fonso hard but did not touch him with the whip until the very last eighth of a mile. He lightly prodded him to win by an entire length.4

Fatal Injuries and Legacy

A few weeks after his win at the Derby, Lewis was thrown from his horse in a race in St. Louis, Missouri. Though badly injured, he made enough of a recovery to ride a few more races in Chicago, Illinois. When Lewis returned to Kentucky, he succumbed to his injuries.

He passed away at home in Hutchison Station, Kentucky, at just eighteen years old.5  His obituary described his death as a “severe loss to the turf” and Lewis himself as a “most excellent . . . and good jockey.”6

Additional Research Provided By

Yvonne Giles, Research Consultant


“1870 United States Federal Census.” 1870. Bourbon County, Kentucky.

“1880 United States Federal Census.” 1880. Bourbon County, Kentucky.

“Do You Know---.” 1929, May 18, 1929. The Daily Racing Form Archive. University of Kentucky Libraries.

Goodwin Brothers Firm. 1894. Goodwin’s Official Annual Turf Guide. New York, NY.

Kentucky Gazette. 1880. “Death from Accident,” July 7, 1880.

Kentucky Livestock Record. 1880. “Death of Garrett Lewis,” July 10, 1880.

“Lewis, Garrett Davis.” n.d. In Notable Kentucky African Americans Database. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/items/show/1904.

Robertson, William H. P., and Dan Farley, eds. 1976. Hoofprints of the Century: Excerpts from America’s Oldest Journal of Horse Racing and Breeding. Lexington, Ky.: Thoroughbred Record.

Saunders, James Robert. 2003. Black Winning Jockeys in the Kentucky Derby. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.


When citing this article as a source in Chicago Manual of Style use this format: Last name, first name of Author. Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry. n.d. “Title of Profile or Story.” International Museum of the Horse. Accessed date. URL of page cited.

  • 1”1870 United States Federal Census.”
  • 2“Do You Know---.”
  • 3Saunders, Black Winning Jockeys in the Kentucky Derby, 30.
  • 4Saunders, 32-33.
  • 5“Death from Accident.”
  • 6“Death of Garrett Lewis.”