SEABISCUIT shares a moment with (Mrs.) Marcella Howard. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.
I have often wondered what our knowledge about horse racing would be like without the images of C.C. Cook, “Skeets” Meadors, Bert Clark Thayer, Bert Morgan, Tony Leonard, Bob and Adam Coglianese, Lydia Williams (LAW), Patricia McQueen, Barbara Livingston and L.S. Sutcliffe, or of Canada’s Michael Burns, Australia’s Bronwyn Healy and the UK’s Edward Whitaker, to name but a few of those whose lens’ are central to the construction of racing history.
Can you imagine taking this to the track? Photojournalist Jessie Tarbox and her camera, circa 1900.
Before I retired from a career in education, I spent a good deal of time researching the visual image and discovered, among other things, that photographs play the important socio-cultural role of holding memories in place. And perhaps because the visual image can be a “closed” representational system — and here I mean the photographic image in particular — it is adept at recording aspects of our social, cultural and universal histories in a way that all can understand. By “freezing” time in this way, photographs give us purchase on something as precious: the construction of a social and cultural history of just about everything.
If there were no images of the horses that we have loved and lost or the people and events that marked the progression of racing on the flat or over jumps from its rough beginnings to today, our collective memory would be rendered null and void. The role of the work of professional track photographers worldwide (from the famous to the fledgling) is that of a cultural ethnologist — people who record the workings of a culture so that others, outside of it, can come to understand what makes it tick. Track photographers take us into the culture of horses and people, evoking a world few of us will ever experience as intimately.
The great TONY LEONARD (back to camera) captures a moment for all time: GENUINE RISK being led in after her win in the Kentucky Derby. Photograph and copyright The Chicago Tribune.
This image (below) brought me up sharply when I first saw it. C.C. Cook has captured an entire narrative in what seems, at first glance, a straightforward depiction of a thoroughbred coming on to the track. From the deserted and vast contours of the track that frame man and beast we are given to understand that both are about to confront the very essence of the game. But there is more — Cook has embodied the moment with a suggestion of anticipation, of infinite possibility, since the race itself lies ahead, in the future.
GOSHAWK walks onto the track, with a young jockey whose last name is Keogh in the irons. Taken in 1923 by the incomparable C.C.Cook.
Goshawk (1920) is beautifully turned out, perhaps by the man walking beside him. His bandages are neat, his tail and mane braided, and his coat gleams. The son of Whisk Broom (1907) was bred by Harry Payne Whitney and sold, before this photograph was taken, to Gifford A. Cochran for the tidy sum of $50,000 USD. In the privately published “The Thoroughbred Stud of H.P. Whitney Esq.” (1928), Whitney describes the colt thus: “Goshawk was a colt of extreme speed and of stakes class.” As a two year-old, the Carol Shilling-trained Goshawk won the Saratoga Special and the Great American Stakes; at three, he won the Quickstep Handicap and ran second to the 1923 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year, Zev, in the Pimlico Fall Serial #1. Other than these few facts, little else is known of him.
But though Goshawk’s story remains obscure, Cook has given the colt immortality by setting his image in the landscape of his time.
Who knew? MAN O’ WAR and WILL HARBUT in what seems to be an ad campaign for Dodge. Date unknown. Photo and copyright, the Digital Library of the University of Kentucky.
They were children, their bones and hand-eye coordination still developing. Why weren’t they in school, or within the safety of their families? What brought them to the track? It seems almost unbelievable that children were competing in one of the most dangerous sports of the day — in the Twenties and Thirties, boys of twelve and thirteen were professional jockeys.
Jockey BASIL JAMES. In 1936, at the age of 16, James led all American jockeys in winnings. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.
BOBBY JONES (centre) and two other unidentified jockeys at trackside in 1926. The son of a thoroughbred owner, Jones led all jockeys in earnings in 1933. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.
Jockey EARL PORTER with an unidentified woman. Porter was a champion jockey in the 1930’s in the USA. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.
Jockey IRA “Babe” HANFORD, who rode Bold Venture to win the 1935 Kentucky Derby, with Max Hirsch and daughter, Mary Hirsch. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.
Innumerable track images convey aspects of racing history that are iconic, even though they were often taken before anyone had a sense of why they might matter in the future …..
MAN O’ WAR’S sire, FAIR PLAY, is shown here receiving a visit from Riddle farm manager, ELIZABETH KANE. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.
The champion filly, MRS. RUSTOM, shown here in 1934. Bred by the Aga Khan, MRS. RUSTOM was brilliant at two, winning the Gimcrack, Dewhurst and the Ham Stakes.
EXTERMINATOR and his best buddy, PEANUTS, lead horses to the post at Pimlico for the Exterminator Handicap.
Few remember that NORTHERN DANCER ran most of his life with a debilitating hoof problem. Here, the arrow indicates the troublesome hoof as the colt grazes, circa 1964.
These white thoroughbreds are among the first to be caught in a photographer’s lens, circa 1966. They are WHITE BEAUTY and her half-brother, WAR COLORS (outside), who was also categorized as a roan.
FERDINAND with WILLIE SHOEMAKER, pre-Derby. Several informal photos of the pair make it clear they loved each other.
1973: GUNSYND, aka the “GOONDIWINDI GREY” was only ever defeated once in starts over one mile. He was then — and remains — beloved by Australian racing fans.
Lord Derby’s stud, showing four outstanding stallions out for their daily walk with their lads: ALYCIDON, NEVER SAY DIE, HYPERION and RIBOT.
1966: The injured ARKLE visits with his owner, Anne Grosvenor, the Duchess of Westminster. Three years later, succumbing to severe arthritis, ARKLE was gone.
BATTLESHIP and another son of MAN O’WAR, WAR VESSEL, depart for England aboard ship. BATTLESHIP was on a journey that saw him win the Grand National at Aintree,inscribing his name into a pantheon of champions.
Australia’s racing legend, PETER PAN, shown here reading the morning paper.
RUFFIAN being led in by owner Stuart Janney after she completes American racing’s Triple Crown For Fillies. Photo and copyright, NYRA.
Other images capture thoroughbreds, trainers and handlers interacting at work and play.
Canadian Michael Burns’ fine shot of SECRETARIAT and Ronnie Turcotte working at Woodbine, in Toronto, before the colt’s final race. Moments later, Turcotte would be set down, denying him one last ride on the colt he loved. Photo and copyright, MICHAEL BURNS.
The great ALYDAR with trainer, John Veitch, who makes no secret of his high regard for a colt who never gave up.
SUNDAY SILENCE and HOF trainer Charlie Whittingham share a secret. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.
GREYHOUND with his Dalmatian dog.
SYSONBY at Saratoga in 1904 takes a time-out to graze and watch the action on the backstretch.
“SUNNY JIM” FITZSIMMONS trains youngsters at the starting gate before it went high-tech. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.
The gallant SWAPS meeting fans after a work out. Could this be a young Art Sherman in the saddle, trainer of 2015 HOTY CALIFORNIA CHROME? Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.
IMPERATRICE (centre), grandam of SECRETARIAT, wins the Fall High Weight Handicap at Belmont in 1942. Note her uncanny resemblance to Secretariat’s daughter, TERLINGUA, born over thirty years later. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.
Minutes after his birth, baby IRON LIEGE and his dam, IRON MAIDEN (daughter of WAR ADMIRAL). IRON LIEGE grew up to win the 1957 Kentucky Derby.
The romance of the turf gives these old photographs a patina all their own…..
1940’s: Celebrated photographer and author, BERT CLARK THAYER, appears to be studying his subject’s interest in his camera.
COLONEL MATT WINN pictured in 1937. In 1902, when Churchill Downs in Kentucky was in serious financial difficulty, Winn formed a syndicate of investors to save it. A brilliant marketing manager, it was Winn who convinced Harry Payne Whitney to bring REGRET to Churchill for the Kentucky Derby, which she won.
1927: Lord Durham leads in his Epsom Oaks winner, BEAM, who also broke the existing track record.
Two members of an American racing dynasty, FOXHALL AND JAMES KEENE at the races.
OGDEN PHIPPS leads in Withers winner, WHITE COCKADE. The Phipps family remains prominent in American racing today.
Trainer GINGER McCAIN walking his champion, RED RUM. Ginger faithfully visited “Rummy” until the end of his days.
WILLIAM WOODWARD at the track. The Woodward is named after him.
1950: A dramatic shot of fillies rounding Tottenham Corner in the Epsom Oaks that same year. ASMENA was the winner. Photo and copyright, REUTERS.
1930: Horses go to the post in the Massachusetts Handicap, won by MENOW. Triple Crown winner WAR ADMIRAL is also in here somewhere.
Although women were either forbidden or else given restricted access to the track in 1925, Laura Walters found an innovative way to show her enthusiasm.
1927: Mrs. John D. Hertz, who would later race Triple Crown winner COUNT FLEET, is shown here congratulating Chick Lang who guided her champion filly, ANITA PEABODY, to another win.
HOF and Australian superstar, TULLOCH, trained by the great Tommy J. Smith, Gai Waterhouse’s father. TULLOCH is rated with the likes of champions PHAR LAP, CARBINE and BERNBOROUGH.
As newspapers and magazines worldwide go digital, their press photographs are turning up at auction, where some go for as much as $400 – $500 USD. And it’s not public libraries that are buying them but private collectors, thereby making them basically inaccessible to the rest of us.
We wonder if this dispersal might have sad consequences for those studying the thoroughbred and its history in the future. Perhaps it’s a generational “thing” to wonder if every photograph is being digitalized — as opposed to someone guessing what ought to be saved. Or to question the logic behind dispersals of this nature, as in: Why is there nothing to compel newspapers to turn their photo archives over to an institution like the Keeneland Library, that already holds the work of several important track photographers?
But perhaps that’s not state-of-the-art thinking in 2015.
The champion BILLY BARTON arrives from America to run in the 1928 Grand National at Aintree. Never an easy horse to handle, brilliant BILLY is looking like he’ll kick up a fuss. On race day, only BILLY and the winner, TIPPERARY TIM, would cross the finish line. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.
This may look like a typical shot, but it isn’t. It shows the three gaits used by trotters and pacers — all in the same frame. Now imagine capturing this image in the 1940’s.
1941: SEABISCUIT leaves the track for the very last time. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.