08/19/2015 7:51AM

Jockey Weldon Cloninger Jr. dies at 46


Jockey Weldon Cloninger Jr., who rode regularly in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the Southwest, died Sunday of cancer at Cleveland Clinic Hospital. He was 46.

A native of Dallas, Texas, Cloninger began galloping Quarter Horses at age 16, and started his professional riding career at 18, taking his first mounts at Louisiana Downs in 1991. He earned his first stakes win that year in the Southern Belle Stakes aboard Read Mix.

Cloninger expanded his reach to Arkansas and Oklahoma between stops on the Louisiana circuit the following year, and first raced in his native state in 1994. His most lucrative victory came in 1995 in the $123,704 Friendship Stakes at Louisiana Downs.

Over his 24-year riding career, Cloninger won stakes aboard such horses as Silverleaf, Toolighttoquit, Halo America, Mastery’s Gamble, and Real Echo. He netted two stakes wins in a single card at Retama Park on Oct. 4, 2003, winning the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame Stakes aboard Fly Slama Jama and the Tejas Stakes on Herve.

Cloninger began to venture out in the beginning of the 2000s, taking mounts in Florida and Massachusetts. He settled into the Ohio circuit in 2004, and within two years he was riding almost exclusively in the Midwest. During his time in the region, Cloninger earned Thistledown’s summit meet title in 2007 and rode Eclipse Award winner Rapid Redux during the 15th of his record 22 consecutive wins. 

Cloninger earned his 1,000th victory on June 11, 2005, in an allowance race aboard Lac Grape at Thistledown.

The rider’s final start came on July 2 at Presque Isle Downs, aboard Ticketoutofhere. His final win came the prior day at the same track aboard Red Hot Quest, owned by his father, Weldon Cloninger Sr.

In total, Cloninger won 1,538 of 11,737 races during his career, with his mounts earning $16,350,015.

Cloninger is survived by parents Weldon Sr. and Carol Ann; sister Teresa Chance-McDonald; girlfriend Kat Dregits; children Shane, Cassidy, Coby, Rudy Destiny, and Cheyenne; and three grandchildren.

A memorial celebration of life will be held Friday at Abundant Life Church of God in Middlefield, Ohio, beginning at 6:30 p.m. He will be interred in Texas.