Tales of the Track : Area man recalls racetrack memoriesPublished 10:25am Thursday, May 15, 2014
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A display of old photos in cardboard mats, dated from the 1950s, were scattered across the kitchen table. The images displayed jockeys mounted on horses posing for posterity after a race and finish line shots of the winning steeds.
Albert Sutton’s 90 year-old fingers thumbed through the stacks as he rattled off the names of horses, jockeys, trainers and even the winners’ purses as if the races were yesterday.
“He was going to be sold for dog food for $50,” said Sutton, pointing to a picture of Bull Shooter. “My brother told the man, I’ll give you $50 for him. They laughed and said that will be the horse that the Suttons will never win a race with. My brother said we’ll see. About three or four weeks later, he ran and won.”
For Sutton, the track is about the stories. Watching the horses run is second only to reminiscing. Although Sutton only worked at the racetracks for a year, his work and the work of his brothers colored his fondness of horseracing to this day.
Sutton’s job was to cool down the horses after a race or exercise the horses by walking them around the track, while his brothers, Rudolph Sutton, TJ Sutton and Devo Sutton, bought and trained horses. (Albert Sutton is the only living brother.) The group is even related by marriage to the late Bill Shoemaker, a famous jockey with 8,833 wins.
“He was just a little squirt of a thing,” said Betty Jean Sutton, Albert Sutton’s wife casually about Shoemaker.
“Track is a hard life for young men. It’s good but hard,” said Sutton. He said his work was not particularly backbreaking for him, but it was hard to live off the money. The men who worked the stables often slept on cots in the stable’s tack room because they could not afford to rent a room.
After his year at the track, Sutton enlisted in the army. He never returned to work for the track, but he and his wife continued to attend various races across the country.
“It’s a thrill; something different,” said Betty Jean Sutton. “If you get to go one time, you’d like it. The horses are beautiful.”
The Suttons have since retired from the track scene. The tracks are to far away and they are less mobile, but Albert keeps up with major races on television.
Sutton continued shuffling through his collection of black and white memories with great enthusiasm. The thrill of the stories has not faded with time.