A day at the races my photos, my words

I enjoy doing photography, which makes sense because photography is my hobby. But not all photographic subjects create the same level of enjoyment.

For me, photographing horse racing is at the top of the enjoyment list. The pageantry, the speed, the colors, the excitement … for me, there’s nothing like carrying my camera for a day at the races.

Entering the home stretch, opening day, 2009 fall meet at Keeneland, Lexington, Ky.

I captured these photos at two tracks, one historic and the other history.

The historic track is Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Keeneland has hosted races since it opened in 1936. It’s one of the nation’s most “traditional” race tracks, retaining the same look and feel through the years while still adopting new technologies (even though it was the last race track in North America to broadcast race calls over a public-address system, adopting that practice in 1997). Keeneland was used for most of the racing scenes in the 2003 movie Seabiscuit because its appearance has changed little in decades.

Outriders watch horses come off the turn in a 1 1/16 mile allowance race at Keeneland, Lexington, Ky.

Keeneland is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 2009, Keeneland was ranked as the number one track in America by the Horseplayers Association of North America.

Horses walk through the barns on the way to morning workouts at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

The track that is history was Beulah Park in Grove City, Ohio, a nice little track that closed in May 2014 after hosting racing for more than 90 years (it opened in 1923). The track had fallen into disrepair in its later years. Word was that the owners were hoping to get a license to operate video lottery terminals (a “racino”) to boost attendance and profitability. But Penn National, the company building a casino in Columbus, bought the track and, to eliminate competition for the casino, transferred the license to a new track (a “racino” with video lottery terminals) near Youngstown.

Edgar Paucar in the winner's circle, Beulah Park, Grove City, Ohio.

I miss being able to drive 20 minutes from the house to catch a few races and grab some action shots.

When shooting at a track I try to get a spot on the rail before the race so I can get the horses battling for the lead in the stretch run. I also wander to the paddock area to get some atmosphere shots — horses warming up before the race, jockeys preparing, etc.

Horses run down the stretch during a morning workout at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

I usually rely on a longer lens — often my Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L — for shooting action on the track, although I'll occasionally use a shorter lens for a change of pace. The shorter lenses come in handy for shots in the paddock area.

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Created By
Pat Hemlepp


Photos and text by Pat D. Hemlepp