Week 34 Off to the Races

You may or may not notice I skipped Week 33. It’s not because I’m trying to catch up (although I am) but because I had a roll planned for that week. It had a few hiccups and I had to doctor it a bit, but it will be up and ready for viewing soon. Meanwhile, week 34 produced several nice rolls that I’m going to use to cover the film-free ensuing weeks in my calendar. This week, I’m sharing the first two rolls. I belong to a local Meetup photographers group whose events I never attend for a variety of reasons. I’ve been to only one last summer which involved showing up early at the local racetrack which runs late July through Labor Day, and shooting the early morning workouts of the horses. The group I met that day was 100% digital gearheads who weren’t very friendly, but I discovered that anyone can get in for the workouts (and free parking if you come early enough!) so I went several more times that season. This year I hadn’t been to the track to shoot at all, except for a few taken on my birthday outing. The Meetup group also hosts a full day event at the track 3 or 4 times a season which involves special “behind the scenes” access and ability to shoot a race from the rail, among other things. I was never able to get into this because it filled up so fast but this year they ran one just for people who’d never done it, so I thought “why not?”. I’m not afraid of no DSLRs!

We met up in the parking lot and proceeded into the grandstand area where everyone introduced themselves and then began setting up to shoot the workouts. When I brought out my trusty Nikon FE several people gasped “Look! She’s shooting film!” That alone was worth the trip for me. As it turned out they were generally an exceptionally nice group of people, especially the organizer for the day, and I had a great time. I shot most of the workouts on Lomography 800, a color film I really like for situations like this

I knew it would be cloudy in the morning but sunny by post time and so brought an appropriate assortment of film. This second roll is Ilford Delta 400.

After the workouts, we were met by the PR head for the track who treated us to a bit of track history and lore including, of course, the story about how old Bing Crosby mortgaged his house (or something like that) to fund the startup.

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We also got some intro about the next phase of our tour, which was an opportunity to go to the stable area where the horses are cooled down, washed, fed and generally looked after like royalty. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go inside any stables because the track vet was making his first of several rounds to evaluate each horse, and the presence of any unfamiliar persons in those circumstances is not allowed since the horses are so high strung.

We did get to see some of the horses being walked to cool down, and being washed at the local horse wash. We also saw the quarters where most of the many personnel required to care for the horses live during the season. Not much to look at but they are free lodging plus, according to our guide, they get free medical and dental for themselves and their families during the season. Most of them are like circus or fair workers, traveling from track to track for each meet.

Next, we got to see a group of horses being “schooled”. Because they are so high strung, thoroughbreds have to be trained like two year old humans. Routine and familiarity are key to inducing good behavior 🙂 They need to become familiar with their environment and all the situations they are likely to encounter on race day. One of the things they do with horses that are not racing on a given day is to walk them into the paddock (pre race) area, and practice putting them in the stalls where they will be saddled for the race. Horses receiving this training are called “schoolers”.

I especially liked this final shot on the roll. I swear this horse was saying “cheese” (or “hay” or whatever).

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Next time, there will not be a night at the opera, but the day at the races continues!

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5 thoughts on “Week 34 Off to the Races

  1. Very interesting – my Uncle left Ireland more than forty years ago has worked in as a trainer in a racetrack in California, in the bay area. I guess it must be a bit like this ! Where is your racetrack?

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    • It’s in Del Mar, on the coast north of San Diego. It’s original claim to fame is that it was founded in part by Bing Crosby and used to be a glamorous spot frequented by Hollywood types in the 1940s. It’s now owned and operated by the private Del Mar Thoroughbred Club on land leased from the State. The facilities are quite nice and were totally renovated over the past ten years. There are seasonal meets at other California tracks, notably Santa Anita. In Northern Califonia there was racing at Bay Meadows, which closed years ago, and Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, just down the hill from where I grew up. Golden Gate was closed for years but is now open for a short season.

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