It’s not always a smooth ride for these three outstanding racing photographers

Star photographers: Enzina Mastrippolito, Anne Eberhardt Keogh and Barbara Livingston at the Kentucky Oaks in May. Photo: Emily Shields

The combined ages of photographers Anne Eberhardt Keogh, Barbara Livingston and Enzina Mastrippolito totals 181 years. That’s a lot of time spent perfecting their craft while capturing some of the greatest runners to grace the American turf.

Along the way, they have dealt with chauvinism and copyright issues, and now face a growing challenge from cell phone-wielding fans masquerading as professional photographers. Despite the challenges, the three women are widely considered some of the very best in the Sport of Kings.

A love of horses preceded photography for both Eberhardt Keogh and Livingston. Eberhardt Keogh’s family has always been in the horse business, and she remembers, “…dinner every Sunday night with my family at Darby Dan Farm, where my grandfather worked, so I learned the farm manager life from a young age.”

Her mother taught her to read the Daily Racing Form at Keeneland as a wide-eyed 5-year-old. It wasn’t until her father started playing around with a Super 8mm camera that Eberhardt Keogh’s interest in photography grew.

Ruffian on an Instamatic

Livingston recalls two photos from her past: the first depicts her at just three years old sitting on the back of a pony with a massive smile. “Horses were in my life from the minute I could remember any minute, and probably before that,” she said. The second photo shows her at nine years old fearlessly galloping bareback, hands looped through billowing mane.

She remembers photographing Secretariat working out at Saratoga in 1973, but even more vivid is the memory of the immortal Ruffian winning the Spinaway Stakes a year later. “I took these photos that were darned good for an Instamatic camera,” Livingston said. “Looking back they were pretty bad, but they felt really good at my age. The next year Ruffian died. There was something about it, I had these pictures enlarged and on my wall, and she kept living through them to me. Like she was always going to be alive because of those photos.”

As for Mastrippolito, who is best known in the industry simply as ‘Z’, photography came first. She was working as the production manager for the Thoroughbred Record, but, “couldn’t stand sitting in an office”. She noted that the Record’s photographer George Featherston was “getting on in age, so I thought shadowing him would be a good way to get outdoors”.

As a fine arts major, Mastrippolito was a natural. “I had that inclination towards composition,” she said. “It had nothing to do with horses.”

That was until Alysheba came on the scene. The Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner of 1987 and 1988, respectively, gave Mastrippolito a moment she still finds emotional. “He turned around and looked right at me,” she said. “The photo I got then is the only one I have at my house. That was the beginning for me, realizing how much I liked it.”

Since then, the photographers have been around some of racing’s true greats. “I took a vacation day to photograph Secretariat at Claiborne,” Eberhardt Keogh recalled.

“Secretariat was in a paddock next to Round Table and Nijinsky,” Livingston said. “I always asked to see Riva Ridge; I loved that big lop-eared guy.”

“I had gone on a trip to meet Northern Dancer,” Mastrippolito said. “There have been so many; Seattle Slew, Affirmed. The greats.”

Special Triple Crown moments

Livingston’s favorite major racehorse of all time is Alydar, who famously lost to Affirmed in all three legs of the Triple Crown in 1978. “There was something about how he never gave up trying that was remarkable to me,” she said. “You can lose and there may happen to be someone better, but you keep trying.”

All three women agree on the greatness of Cigar, Livingston remembers watching Forego power down the track, and Eberhardt Keogh was on hand to photograph Kentucky Derby-winning mare Genuine Risk and her very special son Genuine Reward.

“Zenyatta was a real favorite of mine,” Eberhardt Keogh said, “because of the way she ran. It was amazing to be standing on the track when she was racing to the finish, almost like you could feel it.”

They also agree that being present at the recent Triple Crowns won by American Pharoah and Justify have been special. “I remember being there eight or nine times that the Triple Crown wasn’t won,” Eberhardt Keogh said. “You have to do the same amount of work and preparation either way, so when it happens, the excitement is palpable.”

But their respective careers of documenting the sport in the best light possible have been far from smooth. “When you are first seen as a female photographer, not everyone is thinking, ‘That’s a top class photographer!’” Livingston said. “Sometimes, they are thinking, ‘How sweet, it’s a girl and she takes pictures of horses, so she must love horses.’ It’s not that we don’t, but I also study every camera I have, and study every possible setting. I need to know what I’m working with so I can try to be the best at it.”

“I took photo courses in Lexington with one of the Lexington Herald Leader photographers,” Mastrippolito said. “I did my research and my practice, and I made my mistakes.”

“I majored in communication, and learned audio, photography, video, and journalism,” Eberhardt Keogh said. “I didn’t know where it would all take me. At one time I was covering horse sales, doing both the photography and the writing. There’s no way you can do that now.”

Gender issues

At the same time, the three women held positions as the head photographers of the Thoroughbred Times (once merged with the Thoroughbred Record), Blood-Horse, and the Daily Racing Form. They still deal with gender issues; Eberhardt Keogh said, “It is a male dominated sport, yes, but my job is to document the sport and people have been pretty good about letting me accomplish that.”

“To do it professionally at the top level is incredibly hard,” Livingston said. “I’ve had farm shoots over the years where people said the owner didn’t want to hire you at first because you’re a female, as if that had anything to do with talent, but later on they did hire me.”

She recalled a moment six years ago when she was setting up remote cameras under the rail at a major race and a friend noted that of all the people doing the same thing, she was the only woman.

“There really aren’t many of us,” Livingston said, “and there’s certainly not many in charge of setting up five remotes as well as heading a team of people. I really strive for my team to try to be the best, but it hasn’t always been easy.”

Zenyatta on a thong

More modern issues they face include issues of copyright law and the fact that “anyone” can be a photographer with a cell phone. “Copyright has always been an issue,” Eberhardt Keogh said. “Barbara is very good at monitoring photo usage, and I’m best at staying up on copyright law.”

Sometimes fans can feel that, if a photo is posted online, it becomes public domain and they are free to do with it as they wish, such as put the image on clothing and sell it, which is actually a direct violation of federal law. “There are so many angles and gray areas,” Eberhardt Keogh explained. “If we have an issue, we contact the person, that person will either say they weren’t aware and take it down, or they won’t and they will receive a cease and desist letter.”

Eberhardt Keogh laughingly recalled an incident with a thong bearing Zenyatta’s image being sold in China. “There wasn’t much that could be done with that one except laugh,” she admitted.

And what of technology?

“I’ve made my peace with the technology,” Mastrippolito said. “I integrate it. If this is the way, then we need to accept it.”

Eberhardt Keogh noted that, between races at the Breeders’ Cup, she is editing photos on her phone directly from her camera, and uploading them via Twitter with “the various hashtags already in place”.

Shortcomings of the selfie age

“It’s an incredibly different time, professionally,” Livingston said. “Mentally, I’m stuck in the earlier time where the professionals were professional and people were working for actual publications. They were concerned with doing a good job and being professional with each other; they weren’t consumed with taking a selfie or getting the quickest thing on Twitter possible, even if it is blurry, crooked, inaccurate, even if it doesn’t represent racing well. It’s really difficult for me, because I believe we can show horse racing as world class, beautiful, and interesting.”

And the need for professional, trained photographers still exists. “If you know how to use your equipment and the equipment doesn’t use you, you’re the one in control,” Mastrippolito  said. “The camera can give you all these settings, but if you don’t know what makes a good picture or you can’t see it happening or you don’t have the patience, then you’re not adding to the mix, you’re just pointing and shooting.

“The phones do have good quality, but, if the phone would fail, the professional would know how to circumvent. Take away all of the computerized knowledge that the machine has and do it without that, look up at the sky and note what is that in terms of f-stop and ISO. You have to know how to compose. You need to see what is working in your image to make it. That’s what makes the difference.”

Despite the bumpy road, none of them would change their careers. “People that are in the horse business love it,” Eberhardt Keogh said. “The hours are bad, and the pay scale is all over the map, but I love horse racing right there with them.”

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