Meriwether Lewis 'Lutie' Clark, Jr.

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Meriwether Lewis 'Lutie' Clark, Jr.

Birthplace: Louisville, KY
Death: Died in Memphis, TN
Place of Burial: Louisville, Jefferson, Kentucky, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Brig. General Meriwether Lewis Clark, Sr. (CSA) and Abigail Prather Clark
Husband of Mary Martin Clark
Father of John Henry Churchill Clark; Caroline Clark Tyler and Marie Barbaroux Clark
Brother of William Hancock Clark; Capt Samuel Churchill Clark, CSA; Mary Eliza Clark; John O'Fallon Clark; George Rogers Clark and 1 other

Occupation: Louisville Jocky Club/Curchill Downs Racetrack Founder
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Meriwether Lewis 'Lutie' Clark, Jr.

Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. (January 27, 1846 – April 22, 1899) is best known as the founder of the Louisville Jockey Club and the builder of Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is run.

He was the grandson of explorer and Missouri governor, General William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. His father was Brig. General Meriwether Lewis Clark, Sr., who served in the Blackhawk, Mexican-American and Civil Wars. His mother was Abigail Prather Churchill, from one of the first families of Kentucky. His great-uncle was George Rogers Clark, founder of Louisville, Kentucky.

When his mother died, "Lutie" (as Clark was called) went to live with his aunt and her sons John and Henry Churchill. They had inherited most of the original Churchill property, and they donated the land on which Churchill Downs was built.

Living with the Churchills, Lutie developed a taste for expensive things, including horse racing. He made two trips to Europe and married twice, both of his wives dying young.

He came home from abroad in 1873 with ideas about building a racetrack in Louisville. He planned to eliminate bookmaking by introducing the French system of parimutuel betting machines. The Churchill brothers were the entrepreneurs providing the financial backing, and Lutie was the acting president and on-site manager.

By all accounts, Clark was a mercurial and touchy personality. He is reported to have threatened prominent breeder T. G. Moore with a gun, ordering him off the premises after having knocked him down in a dispute over fees. Moore got a gun and shot Clark through a door, hitting him in the chest. Moore turned himself in to the police, but no charges were brought against him. Clark later rescinded his ban from the racetrack. He also threatened others with a gun over perceived insults. The Churchill brothers did not appreciate the negative publicity, and they left the track to their families. By the time John Churchill died in 1897, Lutie was merely a steward at the track he had originated.

His contribution to American racing cannot be overlooked. In addition to building Churchill Downs and originating the Kentucky Derby, he wrote many racing rules that are still in force today. He worked for a uniform system of weights and pioneered the stakes system, creating the Great American Stallion Stakes, on which the present-day Breeders' Cup is modeled. He also spoke out against betting by officials and reporters.

He lost heavily in the stock market crash of 1893, and he began traveling from city to city, working as a steward. Fearing a life of poverty, he committed suicide with a pistol on April 22, 1899. He is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery next to his uncle, John Churchill.

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Meriwether Lewis 'Lutie' Clark, Jr.'s Timeline

January 27, 1846
Louisville, KY
August 15, 1874
Age 28
Louisville, Jefferson County, KY, USA
August 20, 1876
Age 30
Louisville, KY, USA
September 24, 1877
Age 31
Louisville, Jefferson County, KY, USA
April 22, 1899
Age 53
Memphis, TN
Louisville, Jefferson, Kentucky, United States