The Coady Clan with full photo gear at Keeneland. Photo courtesy of the Coady Family
The company founded by Jack Coady, Sr., in 1962 celebrates 60 years of capturing the splendor of horse racing
By Maribeth Kalinich
Jack Coady, Sr., didn’t know when he left Chicago for Arizona in the late 1950s he was about to create a legacy that would be continuing into its 60th year.
After working as a funeral director in Chicago, Coady, Sr., decided to try his hand at photography in which he had both an interested and an aptitude.
As there is synchronicity in the world, in 1954, Phoenix visionary Walter Cluer dreamed of building a world-class racing facility on 1400 acres of land he just purchased at 19th Avenue and Bell. That dream became a reality on January 7, 1956, when Turf Paradise opened its doors becoming one of Arizona’s first sports franchises.
Coady, Sr., whose interests also included horse racing gained a position as staff photographer for the Arizona Republic in 1962. One of his initial assignments was to shoot the races at Turf Paradise. Eventually, Turf Paradise invited Jack, Sr., to become their track photographer and a family business was born.
Jack, Sr. and son Jeff headed to Stampede Park in Canada where Shawn and his brothers were born. “We have dual citizenship,” said Shawn in an interview with Jim Wells, a staff writer for Cantebury Park.
What was a turn of fate turned into a family affair as sons Jack, Jr., and Jeff joined in expanding the business. The younger Coady’s took winner’s circle photos and operated the race timing. They provided video services to other small tracks across the Southwest as the business grew.
In turn, Jeff’s sons, Shawn who started with his father at age 14, and Kevin and Kurtis, the latter twins, all had joined the family business by the 1990s as it transitioned and blossomed, and digital technology came into play.
While other photographers were still using film and SLR cameras, Coady played the odds and invested in all new digital equipment when the technology was ever-changing and new purchases were always imminent.
Their gambit paid big as the technology began to plateau and increased capabilities beyond imagination.
In an interview with TDN‘s T.D. Thornton, Kurtis Coady explains the technical capabilities for servicing his clients.
“Compared to other photographers, we’re very data-oriented. So much so that everything we do is on one server out of Phoenix that we built ourselves. It’s 120 terabytes. And every Coady computer across the country is synched to it.
“So, if I’m at Keeneland and an owner walks into the office who just had a horse win at Indiana Grand, no problem. I can print those photos in two minutes. I programmed our first six generations of websites along with my father and Shawn. On our current website, we have 250,000 races available for sale. And some of those races have 30 photos posted.”
Starting with a small staff of family, Coady now has a staff of 50 photographers who rotate between 32 tracks when each has an open meet.
Overseeing the large staff are Kurtis and Shawn who also share shooting responsibilities. Kevin handles the accounting while Jack Jr. remains involved as an ownership partner.
Coady hit the map when they became the official track photographer for Oaklawn Park in 2003. As Oaklawn’s races became more nationally prominent and the horses they attracted were bigger and bigger, the photography business became more invigorated.
In 2016, Coady would be named the official track photographer of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, one of the highest honors for their company.
The Coady team would capture undefeated champion Nyquist become the 142nd Kentucky Derby winner and go on to photograph Triple Crown victor Justify.
Kurtis Coady would tell TDN that his most satisfying shot happened at that Derby.
“The most important photo I ever took in my life was Justify [at the 2018 Derby] with the rain coming down; the toughest lighting. And everybody on my staff nailed it. You would have thought it was full daylight outside. It was beautiful. My shot, the shutter was perfect. I stopped the rain. The background with the military personnel standing at attention. Everything in my picture was perfect.”
Coady likes to encourage others to follow their legacy. Kurtis Coady told TDN’s T.D, Thornton when asked what advice he would give aspiring racing photograhers: “I think the best advice I could give is come shoot with us. Drop me a note saying, “I just want to shoot for the weekend to learn how to get into this.” We’ll teach you the ins and outs. We love it. We’re happy to help. We want to be there for the community of horse racing photographers. And the same thing goes for amateur photographers. If you can actually show to me that you’re dedicated and I feel it, I’ll put you on the track right next to me and we can shoot together.”
Coady also likes to give back. In 2016, they sponsored the inaugural Coady International Amateur Horse Racing Photography Contest judged by an all-star panel of photojournalist experts.
Jack Sr. (2008) and Jeff (2013) have both passed away but there is a race named in their honor, the Jeff and Jack Coady, Sr., Stakes, that will be run at Turf Paradise on Saturday, Nov. 5, the second day of the meet on opening weekend.
While most of the Coady team will be at Keeneland covering the Breeders’ Cup there will be a representative from the family at Turf Paradise to document this cherished event.
To see Coady Photography’s gallery of photography, visit their website at https://coadyphotography.com.
Editor’s Side Bar: Coady Photography has a logo I have admired for many years. A black Fleur du Lis with silhouetted horse heads as the petals and a gold bow tie in the center. As a graphic designer for many years, I appreciate the balance, symmetry and color of the logo. Until recently I never realized the symbolism of the bow tie, a nod to the fashion sense of the brothers three. If there was an Eclipse Award for design this would surely win.