Photographing the races may seem exciting, even glamorous, but like most jobs, it's filled with drudgery. In fact, you spend most of your time between races planning your strategy for covering the next race. Days at the track start early and end late. As a fan, if you've ever sat through those 10- and 11-race cards at Saratoga you know exactly what I mean. I'll save my stories from the road for another day.
And, believe me, it's no picnic hauling all that gear, either, especially when you work on your own like I do most of the time. Yesterday at Aqueduct, I tried out a new backpack carrier as an alternative to my wheeled equipment bag. Now I know what boot camp must be like. I stuffed 35 pounds of cameras, lenses, and accessories into the pack, and now my legs are getting even. When you try something new, your body has a way of making you pay for it. It's especially frustrating when you plan and plan, only to come up short because of a misjudgment, equipment failure (especially those remotes that don't fire), or plain bad luck.
Still, I can't think of anything I'd rather do, and one way I try to make the most of the downtime is to set a daily goal. Maybe it's a photo from an unusual angle (though frankly, anything you've seen has been done before), capturing an intimate or emotional moment, or simply finding beauty in an everyday moment.
So here are my favorite photos from Saturday at the Big A. They may not make you ooh and aah, shout gee whiz, or get the vapors. But they made me smile, and that means the day was a success. And if you'd like to see some additional photos from the Top Flight and Tom Fool, check out the View From The Rail Gallery.
A slow-speed pan shot of horses breaking from the gate in the 6th race, a optional claimer, give the contest some added intensity.
I love looking at horses' eyes. And Be Bullish, an 8-year-old gelded son of Pure Prize, just jumped out at me with those black blinkers and red blinker cup. The contrast is what makes the shot.
Gray horses have a special appeal, and I stumbled upon Champion Boy, a son of Big Brown, as he was being unsaddled and led back to the barn after the Gotham. He was beneath an incandescent light bulb, which gave him a orange cast. the muddy face only adds to that feeling of vulnerability.
The Gotham was a roughly run race, especially around the clubhouse turn, and Cornelio Velasquez, aboard Siete de Oros (blue) and Irad Ortiz (Transparent) take a look at the jumbotron to see what exactly happened.
Remote shots can be brilliant - when they work out right. I consider it a major victory whenever they fire. But for the 6th race, I affixed a fisheye lens to my camera and mounted it under the rail. Cousin Michael (in the middle of the track in blue colors) is practically out of the frame, but Master Cip, the number 4, is smack dab in the center of the panorama. And that's what makes the extreme wide angle work.
Leaping lizards. Everyone loves a jumping horse, and when Shadwell's Elnaawi, a $500,000 son of Street Sense, was making his way from the barns to the paddock for the Gotham, he was dancing his way up the track.
The picture of the day, for me, goes to this tender moment between jockey John Velazquez and wife, Leona before the Tom Fool. Leona's facial expression and the hand gently placed around her husband speak volumes.
A head on shot conveys power and flight, and this photo of horses heading for the clubhouse turn in the 5th is what racing's all about. The presence of the starting gate in the background helps frame the shot and give it context.
When everyone in a photo looks the same way at the same time it makes for a special moment. Usually, like in family photos, someone has his eyes closed or ends up looking the other way. This is the perfect family photo because even the horse is looking at the camera. You can see the joy in (just about) everyone's eyes. Come on, Rudy Rodriguez. How about a big grin. You deserve it. The horse is Vyjack and there's a good chance he'll end up in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
The fanfare was all over by the time Vyjack headed back to the barn after the Gotham. But for a split second, the horse closed his eye and the groom happened to look my way. It's about as sweet as it gets.