The Photo Finish…

July 14, 2020

“Who Got the Photo”

I haven’t been to Belmont Park in a while. The place holds a dear spot in my heart and I have more memories of it than I can count. I don’t even remember all the memories from beautiful Belmont Park. The following one I’ll never forget.

There was an elevator on the first floor along the wall just inside the grandstand adjacent to the paddock. Perhaps it is still there. The elevator went downstairs to the basement where the first aid room used to be. Maybe that is still there too. One day I watched a race on the big monitor outside near the paddock. It was a photo finish. I can’t remember if I won or lost it, or even if I was involved or not, but I’ll never forget what I saw and heard following it.

I remember running inside to find a friend of mine to see if he knew who got the win. It was that close. As I ran past the elevator the slow motion replay was showing on all the monitors. The crowd was buzzing as they always did pending a photo result. There was no simulcasting back then so all the monitors were showing the same thing.

As I was passing the elevator there were two Pinkertons wheeling a man on a stretcher. One was backing into the elevator, the other was pushing the stretcher in. The poor guy was half in and half out. The Pinkerton pushing in, yelled to me so I looked closer at him. I noticed he was actually pulling back against the guy who was pulling in. “Hey”, he called to me, “who got the photo?”

This Pinkerton was actually holding back a guy who had a heart attack or something from the elevator to find out who got the photo! That says all you need to know about photo finishes. They build character my Dad used to say. I disagree, I think they build prematurely gray hair.

Those of you who read Past the Wire regularly, or follow me on social media know I am a student of the game as well as a gambler. I have been watching races and betting on horses for half a century. I’ve seen some classic photo finishes. I have written about some of the greatest rides in the game as well as the greatest streaks in the storied sport. There were so many great rides we had to do a part 2. Today we look at some of the greatest photo finishes.

I have been both fortunate and unfortunate in some of these photo finishes. It is interesting to me that I have been involved in some of what I consider the greatest photo finishes in the Sport of Kings. I did not select them because of my involvement as a bettor, I only noticed that after I compiled the list in my head. Maybe it is because we always remember the tough beats along with the big scores. I lost more of these than I won, in this group anyway but that is the beauty of this game. The right win can erase all the losses and then some.

One of the greatest photo finishes in our sport’s history occurred back in 1933 in none other than the Kentucky Derby. The Fighting Finish they called it and for good reason. I wrote an article on it and it tells the story of a classic photo. They awarded the win to Brokers Tip over Head Play. The only problem was this was before they had a camera. We’ll start there, read it, it’s a classic.

Moving right along, who can forget the great John Henry rolling down the stretch in 1981 during the first Arlington Million to try and catch The Bart? Of those who saw the race live, I don’t know anyone, myself included, who thought John Henry got up. This includes the outriders and those covering the race on national TV. Not only did they call The Bart they posted it on the screen;

They surely got it wrong as the camera revealed the legendary John Henry who surely knew where the wire was got up the very last jump. This could be the closest photo that wasn’t a dead heat in the history of the game.

Does it get closer?

It still looks like The Bart to me.

The race that didn’t deserve a loser, but it had one. I’ll never forget that day. It was a rough day at the races for me. I was getting crushed at the windows. I was determined not to let that happen and focused so hard on that running of The Test at Saratoga. I was with my Mom and Dad, and I showed them my bet and said you are both about to witness an epic bailout. Epic. If John Velazquez held the rail it might have been. He didn’t. It wasn’t. Not for me anyway. Jerry Bailey owned the game back then, and he was in the zone. He rode You up the rail to perfection to beat Johnny and Carson Hollow, who I was all in on. When Durkin said the race didn’t deserve a loser, I knew it had one, and I knew who it was. At 5-2 I was counting the money. I didn’t get it. Prematurely gray. You can watch this epic Test here. If Johnny holds the rail do you think he wins? I do…..

A photo with a Triple Crown on the line. It doesn’t get better than that. I always thought this was the time Alydar was going to beat Affirmed. I was sure of it in the Belmont. When Alydar got in front in deep stretch, I knew I was right. Yogi Berra put it best; “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

They ran their hearts out:

Bob Coglianese Photo: NYRA

I always though Gary Stevens was best on the lead. After all how many riders do you know who stole a race like the Breeders’ Cup Distaff without using a gun? That’s exactly what Gary did with One Dreamer. He also stole a Kentucky Derby with a filly, Winning Colors. The fact is; however, Gary was great at everything in the saddle. If you don’t believe me, watch this and ask Kent Desormeaux and Bob Baffert. Watch Gary and Victory Gallop foil a Triple Crown. I was on the right horse here, and never thought we got up until it was posted.

Forgotten in the storied career of “The Kid” Steve Cauthen is this photo he won. It wasn’t close by photo finish standards, but it had to mean a lot to him. After his Triple Crown on Affirmed, Cauthen moved his tack out west to California. He was in the midst of a 110 race losing streak at Santa Anita, many with choice mounts, when Laffit Pincay Jr. called in sick and Cauthen picked up the call on Father Duffy who broke the drought. 110 losses is tough for any jockey.

Holy Bull was a great one. He probably didn’t want to go a mile and a quarter. Concern surely did. Mike Smith gave one of his many Hall of Fame rides and used his skill and Holy Bull’s heart to find the wire in The Travers. They can call him Money Mike, but Magic Mike works too. Just watch this:

Race riding is race riding. Not many rode a better race than Patrick Valenzuela did in the Preakness when he and Sunday Silence held Pat Day and Easy Goer on the rail. This race was the subject of its own article. The race along with P Val’s commentary is all in there. It is a great account of an epic classic. Check it out here….

Do riders always know when they win? Ask Robby Albarado. He fist pumped after the wire in what would have been one of the biggest wins of his career, the Travers. He thought he won. I bet him hard and thought he won. The camera had another idea altogether. This one still stings. It is probably worse for Robby though. He got nosed by a sliver here, and he also lost the mount on Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby to John Velazquez due to an injury.

I still don’t know how Mambo in Seattle didn’t win this race. I was as sure as Albarado he did. I had bet and left the track. My Dad was home watching and I told him I’d call him after the race. I watched on DVR and when they crossed the wire I was jubilant and called him. I had no doubt. I was a half hour or so behind. His voice was so down when he answered. “What’s wrong?” I said, “we won big! Real big!” “He lost” he replied. “What, no way”, “I just watched. He lost” he said again. The rest is history. Ouch!

They don’t get much closer than The Breeders’ Cup Distaff. This race has produced two of the greatest stretch battles and photos known to the game. It took an undefeated Personal Ensign, with screws in her leg, over a track she probably didn’t like, to run down loose on the lead Kentucky Derby winning filly Winning Colors over a track she probably loved. After all she beat the boys in The Kentucky Derby over it.

Songbird won. Nah, she didn’t.

Another epic Distaff and what a job by Richard Mandella and Gary Stevens. This was the goal all along and it was executed to perfection. Better yet I knew it every step of the way, and went with my gut race day. This erased a lot of those character builders. Oh yeah! Read Gary’s play by play here….

I still say if they ran this race 100 times Zenyatta would win 99 of them. Maybe I am biased. I bet $360 into this Pick 6 using Zenyatta and Blame. It wasn’t really a big bet for me on a Breeders’ Cup Pick 6. After the wager, but before the first leg I said to myself, why use them both, she is going to win it. Personally I thought and still believe she was better on dirt than synthetic. We’ll never know. I cancelled the ticket. I bet $180 singling Zenyatta. I was about to walk away from the window. I was then struck with a brilliant idea. Repeat the ticket. Zenyatta times two. Talk about bad beats. This has to be up there. Way up there. “The day of the race you might feel a slight sting. That’s just pride messing with you. Fight through that. Pride never helps. It always hurts.” (Marcellus Wallace with appropriate website editing).

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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@PastTheWire you did do her justice, this is a great read on a tragic moment in the history of our great sport, thank you.

James Giliberto (@97charmed19) View testimonials