The assignment was simple. Cover the backstretch at Del Mar. The horses, the ponies. Legendary sport in a legendary location. Driving down from Laguna to the north I began to mentally formulate the plan. Fuji 6×9, Leica M4. Ilford Delta 3200 in the Fuji and Kodak TMZ in the Leica. Ya, the good old days. A friend of a friend held the key to my access. A wealthy type with a head for betting large and talking loud.
Race horses ain’t your grandpa’s nag. These beasts are sleek and wired. One wrong move, one loud noise, one breath of bad air and they can go sideways in a major way with millions on the line. Consequently, when photographing around them one must take the utmost of care. My movements foreign and suspicious. I creep, wait, creep, wait. Nervous trainer eyes watching my every slither.
Owners up top looking like owners. Flamboyant. Serious. Demanding. They are up looking down, always. The hard work done by others. The hardest done by others yet. Like covering the behind-the-scenes at any major sporting event. Nobody wants me to look too closely.
The enormous Fuji like a comical toy. Two winds to advance because, well, one just isn’t enough. The 6×9 negative, nicknamed the “doubletruck machine,” and rightly so. Gorgeous negatives. Savagely sharp. So large they even work as contact prints. A horse being washed and I’m right there. The light just perfect. PING. A horse tied to a rotary trainer cocks his head in alarm as I pass. PING. A chain link fence my semi-transparent foreground. I wait for a jockey to pass just behind. PING.
Elevating my position I grab the Leica. F/8 at 1/4 second. Take deep breath. Exhale. Hold. Click. So small, light, quiet. Just right. Familiar. I have dreams of loading the Leica. My left eyeglass scarred by a thousand small scratches. Metal on glass. Two men, two beasts. This is why I’m here.