It’s Sunday afternoon, and I want to test out a lens I haven’t used in a while – my super-telephoto Soviet cadiatrophic lens, the MC MTO-11, an 1100mm f/16 piece of glass that can pick up images half a mile away.
My plan – stand at one end of the half-mile oval at Saratoga Harness (yeah, I know, it’s officially “Saratoga Casino and Hotel”, I don’t care, I’ve always known it as Saratoga Harness, deal with it), and try to capture the horses as they make the final turn toward the finish line.
This lens doesn’t exactly lend itself to high-speed sports photography – there’s only one setting of f/16, and it’s difficult to hone in on a specific sharp point. Essentially, I wanted to try a few different exposures and settings, and I forced the camera to take high-speed shots with an ISO of approximately 3200 and a shutter speed of approximately 1/4000 of a second…
Oh yeah, and the distance. I’m set up way back here…
And I’m trying to capture images way down here.
Yeah, you could see that tractor half a mile away, couldn’t you? 😀
Here’s the thing. Even though I can take all the pictures I want at Saratoga Harness, I can’t sell any of them. And that’s out of respect to the track photographer, Melissa Simser-Iovino. She is the track’s professional photographer, she’s the one that captures the photo of the horse as it crosses the finish line, she’s the one that photographs the winning horse and his human entourage in the Winner’s Circle, and she’s the one that makes and prints the winning photos for sale.
For me to sell any of my pictures would undercut what she does. It would be about as bad as some drunken fratboy who won $2 on his first-ever horse race and decides to celebrate it by crashing the Winner’s Circle and taking a selfie with the winning horse. Not cool. So any photos I take at Saratoga Harness are designated for competition or for personal use, but not for sale. Fair enough.
So for six races, I tried to capture the horses as they entered the rolling starting gate…
That’s right, the horse on the left is pulling a neon orange sulky. I would think that was impressive, but that horse eventually broke stride near the end of the race and finished in fourth.
I get three chances to capture the horses as they cross the “sweet spot” of my camera’s focal distance. Just before the race starts, and twice as they take two laps around the half-mile track.
See? Right there. Sweet spot. I’ve got clumps of dirt flying under the horse’s hooves, plenty of action right there as they race for home.
Why did I only want to shoot the first six races? Well, among the netrants in the sixth race was a horse named Mugshots Bro. Mugshots Bro is owned and trained by Stone Hollow Farm and Dowd Racing Stable in Stillwater, and Dowd Racing was the same stable connected to a harness horse named Just Vic. I wrote about Just Vic a few times – a horse that suffered a catastrophic spill on the track, and eventually returned to racing a few months later. Just Vic raced a few more times before he was purchased by another owner; as far as I know, he probably now pulls an Amish buggy instead of a racing sulky.
Be that as it may, any time the Dowd Stable has a horse at the harness track, I bet on that horse to win.
There’s Mugshots Bro, with rider Mark Beckwith in the bike. Take note of the blue-white checkered fabric on Mugshots Bro’s head. That’s in case you need to pick him out from all the other horses on the track.
Sure enough … sixth race at the harness track – a horse named Mugshots Bro is in the field. $2 win-place-show on the horse.
Yep, sixth horse in the sixth race. With my luck, he’ll finish in sixth place. Ha ha, just like the old horse racing joke.
And sure enough, the horses are at the start … and they’re off, and Mugshots Bro falls behind to 7th place. At the end of one lap, you can see his blue-white-checkered head way in the distance, as the red-masked favorite On the Podium leads the way.
Crumbs. There’s $6 in the trash. Oh well, at least I photographed the race, so I’ll take that as a win …
As I watched the horses race along the backstretch, I saw something.
I saw a blue-white-checkered horse slowly … slowly … catching up to the leaders.
Come on, Mugshots Bro, I muttered under my breath. You got this.
Fourth at the 3/4 mark. Fourth at the stretch and catching up. And here he comes around the outside, never breaking his trot.
Third place. I’m getting some money.
Second place. I’m getting more more money.
The horses hit the sweet spot. Bang. Photo.
And then … holy pictographic lineup, Batman, Mugshots Bro is leading and pulling away from the competitors … finishing the race with a personal record 1:56.00!!
Yippee! The horse won and I got the photo of the charge!!
Okay, time to cash in my winnings. Figured with a $6 win-place-show bet, I’ll probably net $10 for my efforts.
“You had the winner?” one of the bettors in the pari-mutuel line asked me.
“Yep,” I beamed, as I handed the pari-mutuel agent my ticket.
“You know that horse went off at 23-1 odds, right? A $2 bet gets you $49 and change!”
And sure enough … my win-place-show wager returned $69.50 for my efforts.
And I got the photo. Now if I take this bazooka-lens to the flat track next month, I can get some swank shots of the horses as they zoom toward the final stretch. So that’s a successful test in and of itself.
Just goes to show you. Always bet on the Dowd Racing Stable horses. Cause you never know how or when the wins will come through. If not Just Vic … then certainly Mugshots Bro.