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Sarah Andrew: Top Ten Horse Races I Shot This Decade

December 17, 2009

As the decade rumbles to a close, the Top Ten lists are pouring in from all corners of the Internet. The horse racing world is debating the merits of every aspect of the sport, from trainers to jockeys to owners to horses to individual performances. I’ll leave the speed figures and analysis to the experts and discuss something I know: the best races I shot this decade.

A note to the purists: this list is not a true representation of the decade. In 2000, I was one year out of college and aside from a few summertime visits to Monmouth Park, I spent most of my time as a racing fan watching televised broadcasts. 2003 was the year I started spending more time at the track and since then, I’ve never looked back.

Although I’ve always been artistically inclined, I only had instant cameras and borrowed point-and-shooters until I purchased my first SLR in 2006. My mind was seeing fantastic images but the photos themselves were abysmal until about three years ago. Perfect portraits of With Anticipation swirled through my mind but all I could get was a sloppy wide angle of him in the Monmouth Park paddock. But this should give hope to the people who complain that they do not have the right gear :^)

So these are the top ten races I shot this decade, not by some mathematical measure of speed, but instead by how powerful the races were to me as a racing fan and a budding photographer.

10) Azeri: 2004 Go For Wand Handicap. From the West Coast, The Champ swept in and ran hard every time. She was defeated by Storm Flag Flying in the Personal Ensign, but that was almost as cool because I loved both mares. Azeri is as game as game can be and she simply turns away all challengers in this performance.

9) Ginger Punch: 2007 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Another race in which a top mare shows the field who is the boss, except they take a mud bath in the process. This was my first Breeders’ Cup shooting as a credentialed photographer and when I look at this image, I can still feel the electricity I felt that rainy, rainy, rainy weekend. It’s also the only racing photo of my own that I have framed and displayed in my apartment ;^)

8 ) Lost in the Fog: 2005 Bay Shore Stakes. Bellamy Road won the Wood Memorial the same sunny day at Aqueduct, but this race made me a believer in Lost in the Fog. As he was led toward the paddock, he stopped for just a moment and looked at the crowd. His wicked, wicked speed made him the coast-to-coast king of the Sprint Division until he was stricken with the same form of cancer that claimed the life of my horse, Alibar.

7) Goldikova: 2008 Breeders’ Cup Mile. All week long, I tried to get good photos of the French filly exercising on the track. My photos were just-okay… she was small and feisty, and not at all what I expected. She flipped her head a lot. As the gate sprung open for the Mile, I kept my faith and my camera focused on her. She is fierce in this image, poised for glory and not at all the fussy filly of the mornings.

TIED at 6) Henny Hughes: 2006 Jersey Shore Breeders’ Cup Stakes

TIED at 6) Ghostzapper: 2004 Iselin Handicap. Both of these performances share a theme: a superstar New York-based invader trouncing all over the New Jersey competition. Henny Hughes won on a crisp, clear July afternoon in 2006 and Ghostzapper won on a muddy, murky day in ’04. Both horses toy with their competition for just a stride or two before launching into warp speed and crossing the wire alone. Bobby Frankel kept Ghostzapper in the saddling stall before the race, not circling the paddock until it was time to go to post. Ghostzapper was tense, working his bit feverishly with his teeth. Frankel and his team did everything in their power to keep him calm and prepare him for his race. In the parade, he became more animated and I saw a spring in his step. The rain did not stop for the race and there were just a handful of people on the rail for his performance. Ghostzapper was a mudskipper, running a hole in the wind in one of the mightiest displays of raw speed I’ve ever seen.

5) Birdstone: 2004 Belmont Stakes. It was a tough call between this race and Birdstone’s Travers. Seeing this diminutive powerhouse silence the Smarty Party just edges out seeing him cross the wire through sheets of rain at Saratoga as lightning illuminated the black sky. In this photo, you can just see the outline of Smarty Jones- he is eclipsed by Birdstone.

4) English Channel: 2007 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. I was lucky enough to be borrowing Bud Morton’s 300mm lens and shooting the top of the stretch for this one. In one of the finest displays of equine grit and determination, English Channel makes a path where there is none and motors away, expertly piloted by John Velazquez. One of my all-time favorite races.

"Step Aside, Punk..."

Make Way for English Channel!

3) McDynamo: 2007 Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase. The tears that flooded my eyes as the mighty McDynamo won his fifth consecutive Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase almost prevented me from getting these shots. Long live the King of Far Hills.

McDynamo is McDynamite!

Go McDynamo!

2) Rags To Riches: 2007 Belmont Stakes. I would have sworn the Belmont Park roof was blown off the building from the roar of the crowd as the super-filly defeated Curlin.

Battle of the Sexes

1) Zenyatta: 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Perched on my ladder, I held my breath and fired frames of Zenyatta winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The place went wild. Greatest horse I’ve ever photographed, greatest race I’ve ever witnessed. Pure poetry.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. oregonsunshine permalink
    December 17, 2009 1:28 am

    Lost in the Fog is one very gorgeous, gorgeous boy! He’s welcome to find his way to my barn!

  2. December 17, 2009 9:35 am

    LOL, I see your bizarre dislike of Rachel is in full effect. The 2007 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational was one of my favorite races ever… “oh, it’s so tight!” Very gutsy of English Channel to go through that tiny hole.

  3. December 17, 2009 1:28 pm

    Since you tied Exit 6e and 6w and went to #5 in the next photo….

    Rags at #2 is really the #1 shot on the list. 😉

  4. December 17, 2009 7:37 pm

    I came across this blog by chance. Beautiful photos and nice commentary – I look forward to more. Thanks!

  5. December 17, 2009 8:39 pm

    Who would have guessed that Queen Z would top the list?!?! Beautiful photos-it was truly a beautiful 3 years in horseracing for you!

  6. December 18, 2009 7:06 pm

    Fantastic!!! You know I’m RACHEL WHO?, too, but I LOVE your shot framing her winning the Haskell.

  7. Catherine Magnuson permalink
    December 19, 2009 11:50 am

    Any shots of Jazil and Invasor? Love the shot of Henny Hughes!

    • Dianne Boothe permalink
      December 27, 2009 8:26 pm

      Hi Catherine, you must be Artie’s sister!! Tell him i said hi next time you talk to him. I probably won’t see him till i make it back to Belmont, late winter or so. And Sarah does have great shots of both Jazil and Invasor. 🙂


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