Photographer still thankful for Barbaro’s Derby romp 10 years later

Photographer still thankful for Barbaro’s Derby romp 10 years later

Editor's Note: A version of this article first appeared on in May 2016.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - I had just boarded a flight at New York's LaGuardia Airport, headed back to Louisville after spending 48 hours looking for an apartment in Manhattan.

I'd accepted a job there, and was just weeks away from the biggest and most exciting change in my adult life, not to mention my most significant professional challenge in the news business.

It was late on a Saturday afternoon in May, precisely two weeks after Barbaro had stormed to victory in the 132nd Kentucky Derby. The pilot addressed the passengers with the sad news.

"For those of you who follow horse racing, the Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro injured himself at the Preakness and did not finish the race," he said. "There will not be a Triple Crown this year."

I'm neither a Louisville native nor a horse-racing lifer, but that news hurt to hear.

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The previous Saturday, I had picked up some photo enlargements after having shot the Derby. On my computer screen days earlier, my shot of Barbaro hitting the finish line looked like a winner. For a guy who doesn't shoot professionally but took up photography just as a hobby because of the access news affords, I was thrilled to have made a picture like the one I made that May.

And I was chummy with the friendly crew at Murphy's Camera on Bardstown Road. Alan, in particular, knew I was just a hobby guy, so in his own mind probably assumed my standards were different -- lower, ahem -- than the lensmen who do it for a living. He was right. I was just trying to have fun.

But as he pulled the poster enlargement out of the big envelope, I think he felt like he was sharing a neat moment with me. What slid into my line of sight was a huge, perfectly-focused photo with great color and light, jockey Edgar Prado's blue and green silks captured crisply. Barbaro's front legs were both up, bent just beneath his massive pectorals, his eyes looking straight down my fully extended 500-millimeter lens as I knelt nearly 100 yards ahead of the finish line.

I remember like it was yesterday seeing that image and thinking I had made it. After shooting the Kentucky Derby for several years, I had finally captured a professional-looking, finish-line shot worthy of publication in any newspaper or magazine.

It felt pretty neat, and it was very well-timed. I moved to New York a few weeks later and, fueled largely by my Barbaro shot, I turned my hobby into a passion in arguably the most photogenic city in the world. And I'm so grateful I did.

So now, 10 years later -- exactly 10 years ago today, in fact -- I have a horse race and a very special animal to thank for helping shape my interest in photography.

And every now and then when I sip a little bourbon out of a Derby 132 glass at home, a going-away gift given to me in 2006 by my good friend and journalism hero John Boel and his wife, I think about that great day in May and what it still means to me.

Barbaro would succumb to his injuries the following year, but I'll always have him framed on my wall, alive like a champion.

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