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Behind the Photos: Spills at Keeneland

Considering how many horses run during a given meet, it’s relatively unusual for a horse and rider to fall, although it certainly happens. To capture one of these in a photo is a tough thing to do – you never know when it might happen, or where. On two consecutive days, Herald-Leader photographers Charles Bertram and David Stephenson captured two spills, one of which ended in tradgedy for the horse. Seven days later, however, the best photo by far came from freelancer Matt Goins who was covering the last day of the spring meet at Keeneland.

The following are posts by the three photographers describing what was behind capturing these images, beginning with Matt Goins.

Here, Matt tells the story behind his stunning and unusual photo that ran April 29, the last day Keeneland was to have dirt racing. The track will be installing a synthetic surface over the summer.

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“It was just another day as I ventured out to Keeneland
on assignment to cover the feature race. With the
track scheduled to install a new racing surface this
summer, I knew it was my last opportunity to shoot some
racing on the dirt. I wanted a shot that captured not
only the dirt, but the energy of the crowd as the
horses thundered down the stretch. I decided this was
only possible using a remote camera, and scouted the
perfect spot near the sixteenth pole-midway down the
stretch.

Keeneland has very specific rules concerning the
placement of remote cameras, so I called Jim Williams,
Keeneland’s director of publicity, for approval as I
stood on the turf course. Jim was in the press box,
high above the track. He stretched the phone over to the
window and I showed him where I wanted to place the
camera. He approved the placement, but I had to rush
because there were only 10 minutes until the race.

I used a Canon-1D with a 16-35mm lens along with a
Canon wireless remote system to trigger the shutter.
My assistant, Carlos Ramos, jumped the rail and stood
on the track allowing me to prefocus to ensure a sharp
image. I manually set the camera at 1/2000 second at
f8 at 16mm, using ISO 400 to achieve a faster shutter
speed to stop the action.

As the horses raced down the stretch, I hovered out of
their sight in front of the tote board. I started
firing the remote as they neared the camera. The shot
we published was the sixth frame in the sequence. You
can see the action unfold in the three frames shown
above.

I didn’t know what to think as the action unfolded
because these accidents happen so quickly. First, I
was relieved to see jockey Julien Leparoux on his feet
and seemingly okay. Then I wondered if I had even
continued firing.

This was one of those moments when I love digital. I
quickly gathered up the remote and began chimping. And
then, there it was-and it looked sharp. I knew what I
had. The adrenaline started pumping, and it hasn’t
stopped.

Some will say it was luck. But, as my photography
instructors Janet Worne and Ron Garrison always
stressed, it was really about being prepared for the
moment-anticipating the action. I anticipated
capturing one of the final dirt races in Keeneland’s
history, and ended up with the shot of my career.”
_________________________________________

From Charles Bertram, staff photographer:

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Up an Octave, second from right, won the Forerunner Stakes.

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Moments later he and Jockey John Velazquez fell to the ground.

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“The Thursday, April 20th feature race at Keeneland, The Forerunner Stakes, ended in tragedy as the winner, Up an Octave, broke his front left leg and went down on the turf track with jockey John Velazquez. The stricken horse lay on the ground for several seconds before struggling to get up on all fours. Ultimately, he had to be euthanized on the track. Velazquez was taken to a local hospital for x-rays and testing. He was released from the hospital after being diagnosed with a broken shoulder blade and other chest injuries. The spill will keep Velazquez from riding Bluegrass Cat in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

The accident happened about one sixteenth of a mile past the finish line. The photographers at the finish line had already started the walk back to the winner’s circle when the crowd noise indicated a problem. A quick glance to the video monitor in the infield showed that a horse and rider were down. I turned and started making photographs of the horse and rider on the track. The first photographs I made were to too graphic to appear in the newspaper as the horse struggled to get up. Once on all fours, I thought the horse wasn’t too badly injured. I photographed jockey Velaquez as he moved slightly from his back to his side. I was afraid his injuries were severe. From the time I made my first photo of them on the ground, it only took 17 seconds for the first outrider to arrive to offer aid to the rider and horse. The track workers and rescue personnel quickly put up a screen to block the injured horse and rider from the crowd.

Since the incident occurred so far past the finish line, none of the race photographers had a photo of the actual spill. A photographer farther down the track and in the stands, made images of the spill and sent them to the Associated Press. Those photos have generated a good discussion on a Sportsshooter.com thread.
_____________________________________
From David Stephenson, staff photographer:

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“The day after Up an Octave broke his leg and was euthanized on the track at Keeneland, I was assigned to cover a steeplechase race. Of course, the spill was the topic of conversation and on everyone’s mind. The weather this day was horrible – a solid, pouring rain with no wind. This race was different than most at Keeneland, as it required the horse and rider to jump fences set up along the turf track. I think everyone was hoping we wouldn’t see a repeat of the day before with such challenging conditions ahead for the horses and riders.

It wasn’t long into the race before a horse and rider went down as they headed over a fence. Where I was positioned, I couldn’t see it in person, but watched it on the monitor. It was quickly evident that the horse and rider were OK – in fact, the horse kept racing and jumping with the rest of the field and can be seen on the left side of the photo above.

On the second-to-last fence, as the horses headed to the finish, another horse and rider went down. They fortunately walked off the track together. This fence was within view of my camera, although it wasn’t the fence I was best positioned to shoot. I was using a Canon MkII, 300 2.8 and a teleconverter. Shooting at ISO 800 and at the camera’s largest file setting, it made for a pretty rough file to work with, but it was still good enough to publish.”

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Derby week begins

April 29, 2006 by Mark Cornelison  
Filed under Blog

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Today Derby week officially began for me. Each of the last 5 or 6 years I have come to Louisville the Saturday before Derby to shoot the Derby Trial (won this year by Record with Rafael Bejarano up) and then proceeded to get up each morning to photograph the Derby horse’s workout. Problem is this happens starting around 5:00 a.m. and I am no morning person. I guess I should be happy to start on the Saturday before Derby since it is an afternoon race. The early mornings start tomorrow, and the forecast is for cool weather and rain. Great.060429derbytrialsmc141b

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COOKBOOK

April 29, 2006 by David Perry  
Filed under David Perry

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That’s staff photographer Mark Cornelison in the background setting the light for this shot of Herald-Leader food reporter Sharon Thompson in her home’s kitchen. Sharon is writing a book of recipe’s called “Flavors of Kentucky”, and is cooking the vast majority of the dishes herself for Mark’s photography. The book will rival the best cookbooks anywhere and Mark’s photos are outstanding. So if you are photographer who likes to cook, or know someone who does, this book will please you and your favorite cook with outstanding photography and the best Kentucky recipes going. You can preorder the book here.
Later on, I’m sure Mark will be posting some “teaser” photos along with info on the shoot. — Dave Perry

Tech info: Nikon D2H, 17mm, 1/50 sec., f7, 200 ASA, White Lightning strobes with a “beauty dish” reflector, left, and grid spot attachment (background). 1/50 sec. enabled the recessed lights in the kitchen ceiling to show.

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And they’re off

April 28, 2006 by David Stephenson  
Filed under David Stephenson, Sports

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So after seeing Courier-Journal photographer Bill Luster’s photoblog, I decided I really needed to add this top image to this post I made earlier today. You really need to check out Bill’s version of this photo, taken moments after I took this photo of him. The old guy still has his reflexes, I guess. I can at least say I shot mine first.

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Today kicked off my official start of Kentucky Derby 132 coverage. I spent the morning on the backside of Churchill Downs photographing the Derby entries and their trainers for upcoming stories we’ll be publishing in the Herald-Leader, on Kentucky.com, and on our photo website, heraldleaderphoto.com, where we are planning special slide shows and multimedia presentations specially for the Derby.

Today marks the first day of daily Derby blog entries by myself and Mark Cornelison, who I team up with to cover the backside during the week leading up to the Derby. Check back often to see some of our best photos and the stories behind them and hopefully some snappers of ourselves and fellow photographers at the track.

Of course, we are at the track to cover the horses which plan to run in the Derby, but there are hundreds of other horses training every day, so you can’t help but to shoot a good photo when you see one, even if it’s not of a Derby horse. I was on the rail shooting photos of Brother Derek trainer Dan Hendricks when the horse in the photo above reared up, almost throwing his rider. The rider had trouble keeping him down, but he finally calmed down and took off down the track. I like the photo, but it’s value is unfortunately lowered by the fact it’s not a Derby horse. Shot with Canon MkII, 24-70mm at ISO 200, 1/1000th sec. at f/5.

Soon after this photo was taken, I noticed that one of the Derby favorites, Lawyer Ron, was coming up behind me. I particularly like the light reflecting off of a white fence on the right. Shot with Canon 1D, 70-200mm, ISO 200, 1/320th sec. at f/5.

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Hay! Move it!

April 27, 2006 by David Stephenson  
Filed under David Stephenson

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You never know what your going to see on the way to an assignment. These drivers were forced to move a load of hay which spilled into Leestown Road near New Circle yesterday afternoon. They said the driver of the truck kept on going, leaving them to move it themselves in order to get through.

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