Monday, May 21, 2012

Favorite photos from 2011

Not gonna lie. 2011 wasn't my favorite year, neither for racing nor for me, personally. So I wasn't particularly motivated to blog, or even put together a best-of post. But hindsight is 20/20, right? I now have a better appreciation for the races I shot last year and have decided to put together a better-late-than-never post about my top ten favorite racing shots from 2011. So here, without further ado, is my least-sucky shots from a less than stellar year.

The Factor finds a scratchin' post
 I took an impromptu trip down to Hot Springs, Arkansas to shoot the Rebel Stakes. While I was there, I stalked The Factor on the backstretch, where I discovered the gray/roan colt has quite the personality. During a bath, he started playfully shoving around his assistant trainer and used him to rub his head. I loved how this moment showed the bond between these two.

Winners' portrait: Havre de Grace and Ramon Dominguez
Winner's circle shots are mostly boring and full of distracting background clutter. Not so at Oaklawn Park, where for their major stakes races, the horse and rider are taken into the manicured infield for a beautiful win photo. I don't think I've ever taken a more aesthetically pleasing winner's circle photo, which is suiting for Havre de Grace, as she would later go on to claim the ultimate prize, Horse of the Year.

Joe Vann wins the Illinois Derby
2011 was the year of the remote. I received a pair of PocketWizards for my birthday and dove into the world of remote photography, which let me tell you, is a whole 'nother frontier. I had trouble figuring it out at first. But thanks to a helpful tip about how to plug in my PocketWizard properly from Hawthorne's own track photographer, I was able to get this shot of the Illinois Derby. It was beginner's luck, and is still the best remote photo I've yet to take. It helps that Hawthorne has some of the absolute best lighting I've seen at a racetrack.

Plum Pretty is bathed after a gallop at Churchill Downs
When I finally received my first Kentucky Derby credential, my number one priority, as silly as it may sound, was to take a classic horse bath picture during Derby week. I took a lot of horse bath pictures before this, of much more famous horses, at much more aesthetic tracks (Rachel Alexandra at Saratoga, ahem). But nothing is as magical as the backstretch of Churchill Downs during Derby week. I got lucky and found Plum Pretty still getting her bath following the morning works, and ghostly steam was rising off of her in the chilled air. She went on to win the Kentucky Oaks.

Animal Kingdom wins the Kentucky Derby
My first time shooting the Kentucky Derby as a credentialed photographer was a whirlwind. But what was most important to me was that I not mess up the win shot. Nothing else compares to shooting the Kentucky Derby for the sheer pressure, adrenaline rush, and the electric nerves sparking and jerking your every synapse to not mess up. By the grace of the racing gods, I was given a break in the stretch of the Derby and given one less thing to worry about when the sun went behind the clouds and I didn't have to consider the burst of sunlight past the wire. This is my favorite shot of the finish, though I have closer ones. Animal Kingdom stands out in the foreground thanks to my focus, and all three prominent horses are in the exact same synchronized stride. (Poor Nehro is blocked in the background.) Kind of a poetry in motion.

By a nose
This was one of those photos that didn't mean much until you see the results. Glenwood Canyon (#4), is the actual winner, and managed to hold off the late charge of Modern Cowboy (outside). If I can remember, this was one of the final races on Churchill Downs' Friday night card, and I shot it to practice for the beam. Just one of those serendipitous moments where everything goes right, your camera stays in focus, and you manage to not cut off a horse's nose. The perfect night racing shot.

Million-dollar Kiss
The Arlington Million is the most prestigious race in my home state, and I'm constantly trying to take a unique photo of the event. After Cape Blanco walked into the winner's circle with the Million's flower garland over his shoulders, this moment happened between his connections. Another moment where I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It's probably one of my very favorite winner's circle pictures ever.

Wasted Tears
 I was on a mission to take a nice photo of Wasted Tears because of requests from fans on Twitter (shout-out to @tencentcielo). This was the second time I'd seen the talented mare race in person, but unfortunately, she didn't win either time. On the gallop back from the Grade I First Lady Stakes, which would be her final race, I happened to find myself beneath the rail checking my remote camera when she came back. I froze to keep from spooking her, and managed to snap this picture on my belly as she galloped by. You won't see too many photos from Keeneland from this angle.

Gio Ponti wins the Shadwell Turf Mile
I love Gio Ponti. World-traveling war horse, Gio just found himself getting stuck with too much bad luck or bad rides throughout 2011 and unbelievably, was looking for his first win in a year. When I was there to witness his comeback in the Shadwell Turf Mile, it really made my year. I was literally in tears when he came onto the turf for his winner's circle shot. And then when I saw my remote actually captured the moment, well, it doesn't get any better than that.

On Fire Baby wins the Golden Rod
I fell in love with On Fire Baby in the Golden Rod. Admittedly, photographers fall in love with gray horses maybe too easily because they're photogenic, but when they win by huge margins, it makes the fall easier. This remote is Ruffian-esque, and didn't need much cropping, so it was another success in my remote challenge. The love jockey Joe Johnson poured onto the filly after the race was absolutely memorable and made for even more great Kodak moments.


  1. Love this! Great photos and blog. Loved the Wasted Tears one and like you, I adored Gio Ponti and totally with you on it!!

  2. Great photos Jamie! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Glad you are doing this site again. Still think you should write your regular column about racing on here if that is what you want to do and let everyone know it is there.