The Early '90s

Unbridled 1990
With five Derbys photographed, I was finding my comfort zone on the final turn and had terrific assistants working with me. Unbridled and Summer Squall were together on the final turn going for home and we were able to capture a great shot.
I was in the winners circle that year, a very exciting opportunity for me. Equipment for my trip to the winners circle included a 300mm lens on one Nikon body with a 35-70mm zoom lens on the other. Winning owner Mrs. Frances Genter was a great sight that I will never forget.
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Frances Genter
Strike the Gold 1991
In '91 I decided to set a remote camera, 600 mm lens on a tripod, wide enough to capture seven lanes across. Sure enough Strike the Gold ran extremely wide on the final turn. It made for a great image and became part of the opening spread in the magazine, along with my owners section shot.
With a solid crew manning the cameras on the final turn, I photographed the owners section for the first time. The pace is incredibly hectic as owners go from the paddock to their seats in the special Derby owners section. For a brief moment there is a hush over the crowd until the gates open. You see faces full of emotion and anticipation. I followed the race through the owners’ expressions, looking at camera monitors when possible. Later, I would begin to use a radio and earpiece to keep track of the front runner. The owners section is a high risk shot with only four groups of owners on the front row of boxes. All others are buried from our sight since everyone stands during the whole race.

Nick Zito and owners Gail and Giles Brophy made for an exciting image as they celebrated their win.
I would later find out that my mom, a huge racing enthusiast all her life who had taught me how to read the racing form and more, could not attend the Derby as planned due to her advancing cancer. Her final bet was a winning ticket on Strike the Gold.

Final Turn 
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Alydar, sire of Strike the Gold.
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Lil E. Tee 1992
It was great to see Pat Day win the Derby for trainer Lynn Whiting!

Lil E. Tee 

Sea Hero 1993
The venerable duo of Mack Miller and Paul Mellon won their first Derby with Sea Hero. On the walk to the winners circle, I used my Nikon with a 28-70 zoom lens. Perfect for the situation. Outstanding breeding on this Derby winner—Polish Navy out of Glowing Tribute, by Graustark.
Sea Hero Winner

Sea Hero
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Go for Gin 1994
Go for Gin lead the way into the stretch, front and center. At this point I was using the Nikon F4 with the 600mm lens on a tripod. Wonderful combo. Remember Ulises, all alone on the final turn? He caused a slight delay at the start, sped to the lead, and dropped to last.

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Thunder Gulch 1995
I was on a flight earlier in that spring photographing a story on equine air transportation and Thunder Gulch came onto the plane during one of our stops. He was a flashy looking chestnut. He got my attention then and at the Derby.

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Grindstone 1996
It was great to see W.T. Young, who stood Storm Cat at his Overbrook Farm, with a Kentucky Derby winner. Cavonnier, despite flinching after taking a whip across his nose, was right there at the finish just getting beaten by Grindstone. Check out this reaction shot of Cavonnier I caught on the final turn. Does anyone remember that?

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In the next post we will continue our trip through the rest of the '90s and in the 21st century. Hope everyone is enjoying the trip so far!


Leave a Comment:

Blue Blue Sea

Love the shots of Strike the Gold and Sea Hero (my horse's sire). Also liked your ones of Alysheba (my horse's dam sire) on the 80s run down. Great shots and good memories!

29 Apr 2010 12:08 PM
Robin from Maryland

My all time Fav- 1990, with CN giving the aged Mrs. Genter a blow by blow description of the last furlong or so.  Even now, so many years later it still brings tears to my eyes.

29 Apr 2010 12:31 PM

Awesome !!  Absolutely Awesome.  And that conformation shot of Alydar.  Fantastic.  I love the shot of Strike The Gold.  I see Fly So Free in there also.  I am partial to Fly So Free as I have a daughter of his.  I look forward to more of your pictures.

29 Apr 2010 12:47 PM

I will never forget Go For Gin and his glee running in the slop. He was probably THE BEST mudder in a Derby for quite some time.

Oh and I will also never forget going all the way to the Derby in 92 just to see AP Indy and they announced the scratch that morning. It felt like a wasted trip to me. LOL.

29 Apr 2010 2:42 PM
Carolyn in ND

Unbridled & his age lady owner will always be one of my favorites. Thanks!

29 Apr 2010 4:49 PM

Great stuff.  Strong memories.

This is the era in which I  got into the sport as a teenager.  

The 1990 Derby was the first Derby I ever watched live on tv.  Living in California, I was a huge fan of the 16 and 0 Puerto Rican wonderhorse Mister Frisky.  However, with a tumor growing, he wasn't up to Unbridled and Summer Squall, two wonderful horses in their own right.  

In retorspect, the 90' Derby was a beautiful spectacle, with perfect weather, two top horses battling in the stretch(3rd place horse Pleasant Tap would be champion older horse in 92'), and the incredbile moment where Nafzger called the stretch run for Mrs. Genter.  Classic.

1991 was the first year I followed the preps intensely all the way.  I had been a huge fan of Best Pal since the summer before, and he did Cal-breds well with a strong 2nd.  Best Pal would go on to be a top horse at 4, and 5, and placed in grade 1s until age 7, at which time he had won over $5.5 million and 7 grade 1 races(if include the then ungraded $1million Pacific Classic).  

Strike the Gold, much maligned for an extended losing streak following the Derby, was actually a very solid horse and won over $3 million.  He snapped his losing streak when winning the 1992 gr.1 Pimlico Special.  

Another of my favorites from the 91' field was Sea Cadet.  Born with only a stub for a tail, he cost less than $4,000 as a youngster.  However, he turned out to be very fast, and peaked as a 4 year old when he won the gr.1 Donn, gr.1 Gulfstream Park Cap, and gr.1 Meadowlands Cap and ran 2nd in the gr.1 Oaklawn Cap(to Best Pal).  His top 3 Beyer speed figures that year were 120, 119, and 117.

1992 and 1993 were stunners, but they did have powerful human stories.  

The 1994 Derby is probably best known as the Derby

Holy Bull lost.  But let's not forget how good Go For Gin got during that spring.  After winning the Derby, Go For Gin ran courageous 2nds in the Preakness and Belmont.  

Another good story from the 94' Triple Crown was the vindication of Tabasco Cat.  Over the winter, Tabasco Cat had run over and nearly killed Jeff Lukas, Wayne's son.  After a good 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby, Tabasco Cat was a sentimental choice in the Derby.  However, he was an absolute flop at Churchill.  However, Tabasco Cat rebounded and won both the Prekaness and Belmont, and then later ran 2nd in the Breeders Cup Classic at Churchill.

The 95' Derby was dominated by the 3 Wayne Lukas champions, Serena's Song, Timber Country, and Thunder Gulch.  Thunder Gulch was the least preferred, but he shouldn't have been the longshot he was.  A winner of the gr.1 Florida Derby and gr.2 Fountain of Youth earlier in the year and the gr.2 Remsen at 2, Thunder Gulch proved his Derby was not a fluke by winning the Belmont and losing the Preakness by only 3/4ths of a length when 3rd.  Later in 95', Thunder Gulch would add the Swaps Stakes, Travers, and Kentucky Cup Classic to earn championship honors.  Serena's Song finished her career with 11 gr.1 wins and record earnings for a female in North America.

I'll remember the 96' Derby for the amazing finish with Grindstone and Cavonnier and for introducing Bob Baffert.  After suffering the brutal nose defeat with Cavonnier, Baffert returned the very next year to win a photo finish with Silver Charm(who also won the Preakness and ran 2nd in the Belmont).  Baffert came back in 98' to sweep the Derby and Preakness again with Real Quiet and came a nose short of winning the Triple Crown with that horse.  

29 Apr 2010 4:56 PM

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