12/07/2013 6:12PM

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.  

Abigail Anderson More than 1 year ago
Wow, Barbara. These are really fabulous moments in thoroughbred racing and I completely agree about your reservations at the likely impact of social media on the visual images that are currently recording the sport. I'm curious: How do you find out about these collections when they come up? Do individuals contact you directly? And the Wyatt collection -- do you now own his print negatives? (I invested in many old press photos of thoroughbreds from the 1900's on when the newspapers started getting rid of them but as a buyer, usually on EBAY.)
Charles Marsden More than 1 year ago
I recently started to read a book called Grand Delusions about De > Lorean > > Levin, Hillel (1983-10-11). Grand Delusions: The Cosmic Career of John > De Lorean (Kindle Location 1244). BookBaby. Kindle Edition. > > I found a couple of chapters of interest in the book. > > As I remember I came home one night from 'A' company and there were > three plainclothes men in our living room wanting to ask me questions about > the theft of Greek Money. My wife and I were caretaking the Vista Hermosa Farms previously owned by Paula Hanson and sold to a Katherine Schien of Newport beach, she had rented the farm to Roy & Imogene Nesseth and little did I know or the relationship he had with John Delorean. If anyone has information regarding the horse, Hazel Upton, or anything regarding the theft please contact me at Jhunter641@aol.com
Ron Canady More than 1 year ago
Barbara - You can't believe what a thrill it is to relive some of racing's storied hisotry through this collection of photographs. I have been able to access the Kyne Library at Bay Meadows in the early 1990's and I know what a rich, wonderful tradition racing has and that its heritage of photographs are part of that important link. If they are being lost, it will represent a real tragedy to future generations of racing fans.
Dana Bryant Wyatt More than 1 year ago
Thank you Barbara! This is wonderful and I am sure John appreciates this. Thank you so much from my family and I. Dana Wyatt
Cheryl Yeoman More than 1 year ago
So happy to see the photo of the 1943 Triple Crown Winner Count Fleet !!! That was my birth year,so I enjoyed seeing him.Really liked all of these photos ,thanks so much for sharing them-great job !!!!!!!!!
Christopher Duganberry More than 1 year ago
Count Fleet passed away in December of 1973...he was 33 years old. He was known as the "Count of Stoner Creek". When Stoner Creek Stud was passed into the hands of a trotting horse horse stable, part of the sale agreement was that Count Fleet would live out his days there..and he did.
Jane Raymond More than 1 year ago
In the summer of '83, I went out to meet Big Red & The Bid. In the tour of the Stallion Barn, I briefly met Sir Ivor and it's good thing they had a full metal screen up because I'd probably have come away from there missing a piece of anatomy - that ol' man was NOT playing!! All I remember of him was the sudden movement of something big & dark and a flash of big white teeth, and then the big bang of those teeth hitting the screen.
Christopher Duganberry More than 1 year ago
Stallions can be extremely vicious and dangerous. I friend of mine worked at a breeding farm and told me that the farm only employs males to work with and handle the stallions.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Like walking through an art gallery. Thanks.
Darlene Sanner More than 1 year ago
I love seeing one of Peroxide Blond Dam of one of my favorite horses ever Stage Door Johnny
Starr D More than 1 year ago
Thanks for sharing these amazing pieces of history. I could look at photos of famous horses all day. So glad you are continuing this great work!!!!!!! :-)
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Dear Barbara, I can't add anymore deserving accolades that have already been posted, I do have a big favor to ask you, Could you please have a story and pics of one of my Favz, the Great ROUNDTABLE :-) Thanks so much!!!