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Welcome to Churchill Downs.

April 29, 2008 by Jenn Ackerman  
Filed under Behind the Photo, Blog, Jenn Ackerman

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(From an intern’s perspective)

As a recent transplant to Kentucky, I am experiencing the Kentucky Derby for the first time. Well actually, I am experiencing racing and horses — lots of horses — for the first time. I am trying my hardest to learn terminology like the difference between working out and galloping and breezing. Who would of thought there were that many words to describe the way a horse moves!

The most amazing thing I have seen in the last couple weeks including today is the celebrity status these horses, their owners, their trainers and the jockeys hold. This became very apparent to me when I produced a piece on Patrick Munro and his wish to visit Kentucky. It was amazing to me that a child with a life-threatening disease would choose to come to Kentucky to see race horses. He met Smarty Jones and Garrett Gomez and he said it was the best trip had ever been on. One wish — and that was his wish.

That is amazing to me. I am originally from Virginia Beach so I understand surfing and all things beachy and this world of horses is a new one but exciting one to be a part of, especially this week.

Today was my first day at Churchill Downs. I was a little overwhelmed by the new sights and sounds as anyone who experiences this place for the first time would. I drove from Lexington to Louisville this morning to arrive at the track at 6 in the morning when the horses, including those who will race in the Derby, train.

Along with hundreds of horses, there are hundreds of fans and media already here to get a glimpse of the favorites. I was among the pack today, trying to get the photo of the horse that is all the buzz. Today, that happened to be Big Brown.

After his two laps around the track this morning, the entourage followed him back to his stall. (After the morning training, the horses normally cool down by walking around and then are given a sponge bath.) But not today for Big Brown. He cooled down for a long time while the media (probably 50-60 photographers, maybe even more) lined up waiting for him to be given a sponge bath. Because these are the photos that show the horse in their element off the track. A spokesperson for Big Brown’s trainer came out and told the group that Big Brown would not be getting a bath but that there would be a press conference in 30 minutes.

I decided to stick around and see if that was really the case. I am glad I did. I was one of only a couple photographers there when they decided to give him a bath. Although, this photo is not something I am extremely excited about, it reminded me of the importance of removing myself from the pack to try to get something different.

Big Brown is held by hot walker Jose Gonzalez while he is bathed after the morning workout at Churchill Downs on Tuesday April 29, 2008 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Jenn Ackerman | Staff

Big Brown is held by hot walker Jose Gonzalez while he is bathed after the morning training on the track at Churchill Downs on Tuesday April 29, 2008 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Jenn Ackerman | Lexington Herald-Leader Staff

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5 Responses to “Welcome to Churchill Downs.”
  1. Ron says:


    Welcome to Kentucky. Keep up the great work! There is a great photo staff at the HL. I always look forward to seeing their images and the new and different way they see things. I’m anxious to see more of your work.


  2. Clay says:

    Looks like you’re doing a great job. I’ve heard nothing but good things about you.

  3. Marty says:

    Jen, Welcome to Kentucky. There are a lot of us born & raise Kentuckians that have NEVER been to the derby, so it’s interesting to see your blog regarding your first visit. But all of us Kentuckians love, love, love our horses. So anytime a photographer can separate from the pack and get candid shots, it’s better for you as a professional and us as readers to enjoy the view through your lens. Good luck with your endeavors in this every changing profession.

  4. karrigan says:

    i just want to say that every thing is just so interesting to me

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