I admit I was looking forward to seeing Zenyatta put to the test. This was uncharted territory for the mare, and something I had been beating my drum about ever since she won the Ladies’ Classic. More than anything, I had wanted to see her run on dirt against the boys. I had even gone so far as to play devil’s advocate and hope it would rain to see her put to the ultimate test—the mare had never seen an off track in her life. And here the track was, a strange wet mix of cold dirt. It had been watered almost too much, in my opinion. I had mud sloshing up my pants. I saw on the tote board that it was rated as “fast,” but personally, it didn’t feel fast to me as I strode over it to my spot. Churchill’s dirt is a thick clay-like dirt, and when it’s wet and properly dried out, it doesn’t have puddles quite like it did this night. There was no sun to dry it up; the chilly November air kept the dirt hard and muddy. But what do I know? I’m just here to take pictures.
|Kent Desormeaux demonstrates a great jubilation shot (AP)|
I found a to-die-for spot on the rail, almost exactly where I would squat if there were only four other photographers, and not a hundred, on a smaller stakes day at Churchill. It would be a perfect place to take the “jubilation shot” I had been assigned to. In what seemed like no time at all, the post parade began for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. It was the single most bone-chilling call to the post I’d ever heard on trumpet; not for a minor key or an ode to Halloween, but for what it meant was about to go down. This was it. This was the moment we’d all come to witness. For us photographers, this was do or die. We had complete and utter darkness to work with, with one single beam of light draped over the finish line—and only when they crossed at the finish, mind you—as our sweet shot. On TV, the lights look all awesome and glorious at night. I can tell you in actuality, it is a photographer’s worst nightmare. The light emanating from the newly-installed lights at Churchill are great for the human eye, but they’re not enough for a camera trying to freeze the rapid motion of a horse running balls-out down a racetrack. Cameras also have a difficult time focusing on things they can’t properly see in the dark, which makes night photography even more fun. So here is basically what you have in a night race: two, maybe three frames (if you’re lucky) that are actually well-lit at the finish line. The rest is a complete crapshoot that can only be saved from the miracle of Photoshop or if you’re trying to do a side-pan shot so the horse looks blurry to artistically show motion.