Monday, March 25, 2013

Favorite photos from 2012

Why does it feel like 2012 lingered on a month or two past its welcome? I guess that's just a symptom of winter, and me not going on a trip over the break. So while this post may technically be "late" in the realm of year-end lists, it is coming two full months earlier than last year's tragically tardy summary of 2011. Perspective, people.

2012 was hot and cold, and definitely an earth-shaker for me thanks to a sudden decision to move to a new town. While the spring granted me the excitement of a new favorite horse in Union Rags, the post-Triple Crown trail was less stellar than years past. Since I moved in July, even further away from any racetrack, I had a fairly good excuse for being more disconnected. (Side note: I truly envy every one of you who live closer than 3 hours away from a track. Be grateful for what you have.) Also, I put a stipulation in the event of this move, I would get to see the 11-time world champion Kelly Slater surf in person--and it totally worked and made up for the lack of races I got to see in the surrounding months. (I'm still feeling the effects of that trip, in fact.)

So, because I like to keep a record of things, here's a list of my favorite shots I took during the 2012 racing calendar. (And maybe a bonus Kelly Slater shot because it totally qualifies according to the criteria in my head.)

"So are you guys comin, or what?"

My first day of 2012 was an eventful one, because it marked my first trip to Gulfstream Park in Hallendale Beach, Florida. And I got to spend it with my best track buddy, the newly-minted Eclipse winner, Mighty Mayberger. For those of you who don't realize it, he's a human. Though that would make a great horse name, come to think of it. (Somebody get on that, m'kay?) Any day you get to spend with a great friend makes for a great time. The day before, we'd celebrated his award at the beautiful Hialeah Park, so we were hitting both the Miami-area tracks for their New Year's cards. I was pleasantly surprised by the art deco style of the paddock at Gulfstream, and though I didn't catch any drool-worthy photos during the stakes, I was blown away by the saturation of the turf shots. I am officially in love with Gulfstream's spongey turf course purely because of how my pictures turned out. Gulfstream in general was fun, albeit small, and I would love to come back for the Florida Derby someday. 

Believe You Can wins the Fair Grounds Oaks
I love Fair Grounds. It helps it's in New Orleans, one of my favorite cities; the people are great, it's full of history, and somehow, it's more laid back than other tracks. I always seem to take away at least one memorable shot or experience from my trip there. In 2012, I shot my first remote off at Fair Grounds, and magically got this Oaks remote to work even after I barely had time to adjust it. Another cool bit of trivia about this is it's the only remote photo of this race that exists. Of course, Believe You Can went on to win the Kentucky Oaks, making this race all the more special.

Union Rags
 Every time I shoot the morning works during Kentucky Derby week, I'm like a squealing groupie clambering for a photo of a rock star. I mean, really, there isn't much difference, except horses poop in front of you and kind of spoil the mystique. I went to the morning works bent on shooting as many photos of Union Rags as possible, because I was convinced he was so talented and beautiful--with the bonus of a classic name--he was destined to at least win the Kentucky Derby, if not the Triple Crown. [insert riotous laughter here] So when he turned to look right at me the first time I saw him on the track, I pretty much reacted like those hyperventilating girls you see in the early Beatles videos. Privately, of course. Though the closest person to me may have been grabbed to steady myself, I can't be sure. After Union Rags jogged, I did the most natural thing in the world--stalked him back to his barn, where I watched him circle the shedrow twenty times before his bath. It was there I witnessed a classic moment, when he stuck his head out of his stall and took a big sniff when his Breeders' Cup Juvenile rival, Hansen, walked by, as if to say, "I know you..."

It was soon after Union Rags began to follow Hansen in the shedrow, they led the White Wonder out to the grass to be bathed. The crush of media forced me closer the colt, and I caught this hilarious bird-like expression as I squat on the ground. That was when I really crushed on Hansen. I mean, how could you not fall for that nose? Those white eyelashes? What a goofnut.

I'll Have Another wins the Kentucky Derby
This is one of those shots you thank God for, because my camera went completely out of focus for three frames after this and I had an outright meltdown immediately following the event. What freaks me out is I have no idea why my camera went out of focus after this--possibly it was shooter error, as I saw Dullahan coming strong on the outside and I hesitated for just enough of a split second to lose the tracking focus. You might wonder how I could possibly misinterpret that, as Dullahan ended up in third. When you've got 150,000 people screaming at your back and exactly five seconds to get a shot of who may or may not be the eventual winner, a new definition of "pressure" is born. Either way, I secured the win shot, and that's all that matters. Live and learn, and trust your gut. Hell of a way to gain that lesson, though. I'm going to probably have a heart attack if I ever shoot a Derby with two horses nose-bobbing at the wire.

"The agony of defeat..."

If ever there was a face for that famous line in the Wide World of Sports, this would be it. I don't think I've seen Mike Smith so crushed since the infamous 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic. In his attempt to win the Kentucky Derby wire-to-wire, Bode put in a brave fight--I don't love this photo because Bodemeister lost, but because this moment told the story of his effort. Faraway, so close.

Thunderstorm at Churchill Downs
The thunderclap that made all of us in the press box think, for a split second, we were all dead. This isn't the best picture of a thunderstorm you'll ever see, but I'm a novice at lightning pictures so dumb luck won out this time. This happened on July 1st during the "Downs After Dark" night racing program.

Slater slaying waves
Hah! Told you I was going to throw a Kelly Slater photo in here! Shooting Lowers was absolutely amazing. The waves are bigger in person than they look on the telecast--it's almost like they're carving mountain ranges and not undulating ocean ripples. Seeing Kelly battle in person, not to mention win his 50th world tour event, was one of the most special moments of my year. This guy is a living legend, people, and you should be watching him.

Pool Play wins the Hawthorne Gold Cup
Pool Play gifted me with one of my first-ever remote shots that ever turned out in the Stephen Foster back in 2011. Here he gives me another cracker, as the Aussies would say. (Black Caviar has me working on my Oz-slang, don't judge me.) This was my maiden Hawthorne Gold Cup, which was at dusk, making the shot even trickier and therefore a ton more exciting when it came out. I hated to see Alternation fair so poorly in this race, but at least one of my groupie horses came away with the trophy.

Shackleford wins the Clark Handicap
The 2012 Clark Handicap stands out to me as one of my favorite races of the year. Fan favorite Shackleford was running in his last race, and the crowd came out to see him. When he turned for home and started to run away from the rest of the field, I got the whole goosebump/chills/tears trifecta. The roaring grandstand gave him a standing ovation, and he received a hero's welcome. To make it even better, his buddy Jesus Castanon was back in the irons, giving this iron horse a storybook ending. This was the kind of race that reminds you why you stick around and love the game. Kudos to the connections for keeping Shack in training and giving him a chance to shine.

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