‘I just fell in love with doing it’: Louisville man plans to attend his 84th Kentucky Derby

The memorabilia and stories John Sutton Jr. shared about his time at Churchill Downs over the years showcases why this place is so special.
Published: May. 1, 2023 at 7:48 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A Louisville man may know Churchill Downs better than anybody.

John Sutton Jr. has been to the Kentucky Derby 83 consecutive times and plans to attend his 84th this weekend.

A record he may stand alone holding. WAVE News reporters said Sutton’s home has the feel of a museum.

The memorabilia and stories he shared about his time at Churchill Downs over the years showcase why the prestigious grounds are so special.

Sutton’s love for horse racing started at about 8 years old. He said he remembers listening to the Kentucky Derby on the radio in 1939 and immediately fell in love.

The following year, he begged his father to take him. But the weather made it a little underwhelming.

”When we got there, it was cold that day, oh my goodness,” Sutton said. “My mother bundled me all up and when we got there I think we spent most of our time in the men’s room because it was so darn cold.”

Sutton said he found his niche after watching his dad observe horses in the Paddock to bet on.

”I just fell in love with doing that,” Sutton said. “People go to concerts today, but there was no such thing as that then, to a degree, and I just thought that was my cup of tea. I look forward to it this year.”

That love turned into an obsession, which turned into 83 consecutive years of attending the Kentucky Derby. He even has the documentation to prove it.

From Mint Julep cups, lapel pins, tickets and programs dating back to the early 1900′s, Sutton has it all.

Unlike most, he has turned horse betting into a science. Needless to say, his best memory was one of his biggest wins.

”In the year 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus won, and we had bet quite a bit of money on it,” Sutton said. “We had the winner, the exacta, the trifecta and the superfecta.”

A once-in-a-lifetime bet for a man who says he has experienced once-in-a-lifetime luck.

Injuries, military service and illnesses almost put an end to his streak, but he was motivated to do what he loved.

”There was nothing that was going to deter me from going to the Kentucky Derby,” Sutton said. “I thought that was the end all be all.”

Sutton said he plans to go to the Derby again this Saturday and will be doing so in the First Turn Club for its inaugural year.

He, unfortunately, said this may be his swan song due to some injuries. The end of a streak he said he is proud to have accomplished.

Sutton has a book called detailing his life experiences as well as details from all 83 Kentucky Derby races he attended.

For more information about his book, click or tap here.