12/07/2013 5:12PM

Photographs and history: Photographer John C. Wyatt


The 1968 English and Irish Horse of the Year,SIR IVOR, arrives at Blue Grass Field in Lexington, KY, on July 14, 1970.  Then 5, Sir Ivor took up stud duties at Claiborne Farm in nearby Paris, where he died in 1995.


Modern horse racing is quickly losing its permanent photographic record. 

In "the old days," the great photographer Tony Leonard would have been called to photograph a big-league foaling or the arrival at stud of a topnotch stallion.  He turned conformation photography into a fine art.  Yet nowadays, such events are usually recorded by amateurs with cell-phone cameras. Many top farms don’t use good photos in advertising anymore, and the days when top "outside" photographers aimed their cameras at our sport are long-gone.

Some yesteryear racing photographers’ negative collections have ended up at the Keeneland Library, where they are permanently stored, catalogued, and treated as treasures.  Yet fifty years from now, people looking for some of the most important images of our time may simply find red Xs on long-defunct websites – if the internet still exists, with its memories of items posted decades before.

In those earlier days, of film, and topnotch professional photographers, and attention to detail, Mr. John C. Wyatt was one of the sport's best.

Above:  Aerial view of Keeneland on March 9, 1968.

In fact, John C. Wyatt’s photographic work is one of racing’s most precious secrets.

It’s not as if Mr. Wyatt was unknown.  His photos appeared for 40 years in Lexington, KY, newspapers, and he also photographed horse racing - including Keeneland, Churchill Downs and Kentucky farms - for three decades.   He assisted the world-famous photographer J. C. "Skeets" Meadors, and he helped tend to the Keeneland Library.

But Mr. Wyatt, who died in 2005, was humble, quiet, understated, not even asking for a credit line.  His work was never about “him" nor did he want it to be.  It was about the image.  Facebook, selfies and photo-bombing would, I’d guess, have made him cringe.   

He was an artist and perfectionist, and that he loved what he did is reflected in his work.  But, because he stayed far from the limelight, his name is known only to the most ardent racing fans.

Yet from photos of long-legged foals who grew up to be Hatchet Man or Buckaroo, to the Preakness winner Greek Money being visited by baseball star Don Drysdale, to a young and happy Buckpasser galloping across his Claiborne Farm paddock, John C. Wyatt recorded times and events the rest of us dream about.  He preserved our history, and we are the richer for his life's work.

Above:  Buckpasser - Stepping High colt, at Greentree Farm on March 14, 1975.  Named Buckaroo, this cutie grew up to be a multiple graded stakes winner.  Buckaroo was the country's leading sire in 1985, the year his son Spend A Buck won the Kentucky Derby.

Above:  Gay Hostess, in 1969, the year her son Majestic Prince won two-thirds of the Triple Crown.  At the 12-year-old Gay Hostess's side is a full brother to Majestic Prince named Crowned Prince (also in next photo).  That's quite a knee on Gay Hostess....I wonder what that back-story is. 

Above:  Crowned Prince, a full brother to Majestic Prince, as a Spendthrift Farm yearling on October 25, 1970.  The gorgeous and heavily-promoted yearling sold for $510,000. Crowned Prince became a Group I winner, and 2-year-old champion colt, in England.

Above:  1966 Horse of the Year Buckpasser on October 14, 1967, at Claiborne Farm.  This immortal champion, considered one of the best-conformed horses in history, became a top sire and broodmare sire. 

Above:  The very beautiful Peroxide Blonde at Greentree, on June 3, 1968, two days after her son Stage Door Johnny won the Belmont Stakes.

Above:  Also at Greentree Stud, Tom Fool, in December 1970 at age 21.

Above:  Citation's last foal, Cy's Last Sigh, on June 4, 1970.  This long-legged, seemingly self-confident boy grew up to race 102 times, with 12 wins, 17 seconds and 15 thirds.  He earned $35,212.  Equibase only lists his starts from 1976 on, and all of them were claiming events.

Above:  Hall of Fame right-handed pitcher Don Drysdale visits with 1962 Preakness winner Greek Money in 1969.  The woman with the fantastic hair, unfortunately, is not identified.

Above:  1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, on September 7, 1967, at Stoner Creek Stud.  Then 27, Count Fleet lived to the grand old age of 33.  He was buried on the farm.

Above:  Triple Crown winner Secretariat arriving at Blue Grass Field on November 11, 1973, on his way to his new career, and home, at Claiborne Farm.