Watching a horse race from the stands is an exciting and awe inspiring experience. But getting close enough to take photos for publication requires media credentials that I did not have. It is an awesome story, which only required the kind of dumb luck I seem to attract.
I first developed an infatuation for horse racing at Saratoga Springs in September 2009. As luck would have it, I was then living in Charlotte, NC, where the only horses racing were those in the stock cars at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The closest horse track was in Charles Town, West Virginia, so I decided to assuage my new hunger by watching the online streaming videos on TVG. I devoured race after race; slowly learning the names of the thoroughbreds that were hot. It was an exciting time in horseracing, and the highlight of that season was watching Rachel Alexandra win Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards.
In March of 2010, I returned home to Miami with a bit of knowledge now dangling from my appetite. I had successfully dabbled in still photography with a little Nikon Coolpix, but I knew I needed something more versatile to capture the magnificence of the creatures that now inspired me. With some extra cash, I bought a Nikon D5000 with two lenses (an 18-55mm and a 55-200mm). I was stoked to get the reach I’ve always wanted with the 200mm, which then gave me the ability to get up close with both the horses and their people. I found Calder Race Course in my backyard, and began shooting at the races on Automatic (because I didn’t know any better) for the next 7 months.
By October of 2010, I was taking some passable photos. I heard there was a horse running at Calder that had three straight victories under her harness. Her name was Awesome Feather, sired by Awesome Of Course and grand sired by Awesome Again. She was a two-year-old dark brown bay with a sleek figure, and she loved to run. So I galloped down to Calder and focused my 200 on Awesome Feather. I shot her in the paddock, post parade, the finish line, comeback, and the winner’s circle – all from the grandstand side of the fence. I got some great shots, but the best one was of her jockey, Jeffery Sanchez, approaching the winner’s circle with a huge smile on his face. I posted this photo on Facebook with the caption “Now all I need is press credentials”. Awesome Feather went on to win the Breeders Cup, Juvenile Fillies category, with six undefeated victories. I had documented one of them, but I now hungered to get on the other side of that fence.
In December I received a Facebook message from Mr. Matt Wooley of EquiSport Photos. Matt is based in Lexington, Kentucky where Keenland and Churchill Downs were closed for the season. He said he could get me those credentials, and asked if I would be interested in shooting for him at Gulfstream Park for the winter meet. Since he wasn’t using his cameras, he actually sent me a Cannon Mark III with a gigantic 200 mm lens. HOLY S***!!! This was just unreal…media credentials, and a genuine professional camera! Who would have thought I would step into such an auspicious opportunity with such ease? After obtaining my media creds for Gulfstream, I went to every race from January through April, learning how to shoot with Shutter and Aperture settings. With lots of advice from Matt, the improvements through those months were phenomenal. I was published in the New York Times, Paulick Report, Thoroughbred Times, Bloodhorse, TVG Community, Daily Racing Form, Brisnet, Horse Racing Nation, Racing Post (UK), Irish Post (IE), Dubai News, Horse Canada, and other thoroughbred publications. I had graduated from neophyte to professional in less than one year! Awesome Feather helped me achieve an awesome dream come true.
In posts to come I would like to share my experiences with you on how to take photos at the track including positioning, paddock shots, and winner circle shots.