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Behind the Photos: Spills at Keeneland

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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.




“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

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

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

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:

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

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



“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 thread.
From David Stephenson, staff photographer:


“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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4 Responses to “Behind the Photos: Spills at Keeneland”
  1. Dave LaBelle says:

    You guys are just too much! Great, great stuff.


  2. Jahi Chikwendiu says:

    ok, it used to be the old stuffed bird in the trunk trick. now, you guys are planting thoroughbred trip stones on horsetracks. you’re toying with multi-million dollar horses here for the sake of getting good snaps. where will it end? (wink)

    but seriously, way to be on top of it when the unexpected happens. your whole photo space on the web is coming along nicely. i don’t know about giving space to that luster guy, though. isn’t he from…over there?

    again, good job. very impressive.

  3. Martha Ross says:

    By the most amazing coincidence I photographed a series of frames showing Jockey Leparoux’s spill from the grandstand rail with my Nikon 35 mm camera. I was located directly across from the spill and because I was a little further away than Matt Goins and I was panning the action, I have captured the full panorama of the spectacular somersault he turned as he went off the back of Sanibel Storm. These are professional quality photos which I will be posting.

    Martha Ross

  4. Jonathan Palmer says:

    Whatever photographs were taken the day that the jockey flipped on the dirt for the last time at Keeneland, Goins got the shot that was in the Herald-Leader and now leading off in SI. Any other images are not going to quite have the pop his has. Let the man have his moment, he has endured enough this meet, and deserves the credit for being in the right place at the right time.

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