Saturday, May 24, 2014

Favorite Photos from 2013

Okay, so I have a reasonable excuse for why this post is so tardy. Until last week, I didn't actually have all of my racing photos from 2013 edited. That's right--there were pictures from an entire race day that had never seen the light of day until just now. I do apologize to the masses starving for my photos from the Cumberland County Fair. Being a professional photographer can sometimes mean putting "fun" photos on the back-burner for months at a time.

I shot more races than usual last year, mostly due to the fact I discovered Thoroughbred racing at local Illinois county fairs. These small-time races made for a ton of fun, and I came away with a deep affection for the fair circuit. So much so, don't be surprised if they get their own post as a preview for this summer.

Anyway! Without further ado, here's a look back at my favorite racing pictures from 2013. It was a pretty good year.

"Ooh. That's the spot."

Here is Point of Entry being a total dork on the Keeneland backstretch, using a bale of hay to scratch his head. Point of Entry scored some major sentimental points with me after I visited him for the first time at his barn. Before this, I thought of him as the lean, mean rival of Animal Kingdom. This is the moment he made me melt. Even monster athletes are goofballs, too.

"Make way for the Derby winners."
I can't say this is a sight I, or anyone else, will ever see again: two Kentucky Derby winners being escorted through the main walking area of the paddock by policemen. Talk about a royal entourage. 2003 winner Funny Cide was visiting from the Hall of Champions, where he resides at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, and 2009 winner Mine That Bird was taking a vacation from him home in New Mexico. The two champs took up residence at the Kentucky Derby museum amidst the Derby festivities and created quite the stir as they paraded in the paddock and greeted fans at the stables.

"A kiss for Princess of Sylmar."
Here's owner Ed Stanco planting a kiss on his filly after her gritty victory in the Kentucky Oaks. After taking pictures of them on the turf winner's circle, I got caught up in the connections' victory parade to the press conference. A couple of young guys threw the garland of lilies over their shoulders and cheered down the tunnel, "Best three-year-old filly in the world!" It was impossible to keep from floating off their victory high. One of my favorite group of winners ever.

"Postcards from the Kentucky Derby: Finding a Dry Spot."
It rained a lot on Kentucky Derby day 2013. A soaking, clearing rain that drove out the fickle photographers who only covered races on big days like this. My raincoat croaked and I had to borrow a dry shirt from my boss before half the day was through. But it was awesome. I made a trek to the infield to see how the depraved masses were coping with the muck and mire, and on the way stumbled across these two members of the band hunkering in a tuba chest in an attempt to escape the elements. These are the images that make the Derby the wonderful circus it is. This was a Derby day I will always remember. Just before one of the turf races, I stood looking at the stuffed grandstands with the biggest smile on my face. It was one of those rare moments when you stop and appreciate the fact the fact you're exactly where you belong, and you couldn't possibly be happier.

"Orb gets his roses."
Until 2013, I'd never come close to seeing the Kentucky Derby winner in his garland of roses. You have to get lucky, and some years, you only get the opportunity if you're one of the few photographers wearing a winner's circle vest. This was the first year I was given the opportunity to shoot the winner's circle, and I took on the mission like it was decreed from the racing gods. For a tense moment, I thought I wasn't going to get the shot. Not only do you have to stay corralled behind a rope held by the National Guard (seriously), you have to get lucky enough the NBC cameramen happen to step out of your line of vision. There was a break in the crowd, and then I got this moment. I took in my breath and held it as the shutter fired. If all of your dreams could be developed in an image, it might look just like this. Best Kentucky Derby ever.

"Royal Delta"
Hard to believe, but I'd never seen Royal Delta race in person before she came to Louisville to run on the undercard of the 2013 Stephen Foster. I'd missed the 2012 edition of Foster Day, so I was hoping she would turn in a similar winning performance in the Fleur de Lis for me this year. Unfortunately, that didn't end up happening, as she was upset by Funny Proposition. At least I was able to get a nice head shot before she was retired. What a gorgeous gal.

"Valiant Boy SBFAR wins the PUAE Cup"
Much to my excitement, Churchill Downs carded a Grade I Arabian race to run at night after the Stephen Foster. How many opportunities do you get to shoot Arabian races? At Churchill Downs? At night? This was a first for me, and I was determined to catch a decent remote of it. Well, this one could not have gone down any better. A gray horse, like a ghost, emerging out of the dark well ahead of the rest of the field. Ye olde D200 may not have tripped for Fort Larned in the Foster, but it did well for me here. And if I had to choose, I think this is the one I would've picked to fire.

"Martinsville Agricultural Fair"
Thanks to my friend Joe Nevills, I dove headlong into the world of county fair racing over the summer. I'd never even realized there was Thoroughbred racing going on near my own backyard. My parents, who took me to fairs growing up, totally let me down on this. All total, I made it to the Martinsville Agricultural Fair, the Effingham County Fair, and the Cumberland County Fair. Three glorious race days all within an hour's drive of me, featuring all of the red velvet funnel cake I could eat. I loved the country scenes and the not-so regal furnishings of the old fair tracks. It's a different world than I'm used to, but it's also simpler and more laid back. There's no betting, just people coming out to watch horses roll over the hard-packed earth. My kind of people.

"Spokane's Round Barn"
Summer vacation took me out west to the great state of Montana. Here I was able to take my racing tourism to a whole 'nother level. I found the red round barn the 1889 Kentucky Derby winner was born and raised in. Spokane is the only Montana-bred to ever win the Kentucky Derby, boasting an incredible story on his rise to prominence from ages two to three. In 1889, Montana was not even a state yet, and the Derby was run at 1 1/2 miles. Spokane still holds the record time for winning the Derby at that distance. (2:34.50)

"Fiftyshadesofhay finds out her name is a bad pun."
I never seem to be in the right place at the right time within the right distance and with the right lens when a horse is doing a spectacular job of acting up. Here is one of the exceptions. Prior to the Indiana Oaks at Indiana Downs, the Baffert trainee raised up on two legs in the paddock and left her race there. She would be beaten by Pure Fun, who is a good filly in her own right. This was the first year the Indiana Derby and Oaks were moved from Hoosier Park to Indiana Downs. I was pleased with the facilities, especially when I saw they have a nice turf course. Hopefully the next time I return, it won't be quite so muddy.

"Will Take Charge guns down Game On Dude in the Clark Handicap"
I love Will Take Charge. The big, flashy chestnut with a bigger heart is a thrilling closer. I'd rooted for him to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, and boy, did he put on a show, missing the win by a nostril. Later that month, he wheeled back to duke it out with the gritty Game On Dude in the last big handicap of the year, and Willie nailed him in the final jumps. It was a sweet victory to close out his 2013, cinching him the Eclipse Award for Champion 3-year-old Male.

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