On Saturday, May 2, 2015, fans of horse racing will gather at Churchill Downs for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby, the horse race known as the “fastest two minutes in sports.” The Derby is first of the series of three Thoroughbred horse races known as the “Triple Crown”—Kentucky Derby, The Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland on Saturday, May 16, and The Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York on Saturday, June 6.
In 1973, led by jockey Ron Turcotte, a horse by the name of Secretariat won all three races, becoming the first United States Triple Crown winner in 25 years. Turcotte’s jockey career ended in 1979 after falling off his horse, leaving him disabled. Canadian sports magazine, Sportsnet, hired photographer Stephanie Noritz to photograph 2014’s Belmont Stakes for an upcoming story on Turcotte’s emotional return.
In a March 2015 promo email Noritz included a few of the images from the shoot. PDN wanted to know more about the Toronto-born photographer’s relationship with Sportsnet, and what it was like getting the shots in such a chaotic atmosphere (Belmont Stakes officials reported a crowd of over 100,000 in 2014).
PDN: How’d you get the assignment? Had you worked with Sportsnet before?
Stephanie Noritz: Setareh Sarmadi, the associate photo editor for Sportsnet at the time, reached out to me via email. She was looking for a photographer who could document the event and place, and also shoot a great natural light portrait.
I had worked with Sportsnet once before when photography director Myles McCutcheon sent me to Minnesota for a story on Shattuck-St. Mary’s, an old military school turned athletic juggernaut where many of its students have been drafted into the NHL and have gone onto win gold at the Olympics.
PDN: What kind of access did you have? Were you escorted places or could you do your own thing?
SN: We had to apply to get accredited through the New York Racing Association (NYRA) along with other press, which allowed me to float around the grounds freely for the most part.
PDN: Had you hoped to get time for a more posed portrait?
SN: I envisioned a few different portrait set ups with Ron, for example on the race track alone and with California Chrome, but unfortunately because of logistics and my limited time with him between his press interviews and signings, it wasn’t possible. I think he was hesitant about being photographed at first, but he took a liking to me so I was able to grab him for a few minutes here and there between all the chaos of his day.
PDN: What was the vibe like there? I’d imagine tensions were pretty high considering the amount of money people bet at Belmont.
SN: It was pretty wild! Everyone was rooting for California Chrome to win the Triple Crown that day, which would have been the first since Affirmed in 1978. When he didn’t win you could sense the disappointment as the crowd left the track. [There were] piles of discarded merch and posters on the ground for the taking throughout the park.
PDN: What was the biggest challenge of the day?
Definitely getting one-on-one time in with Ron. He dedicated over eight hours that day to signings. The lineup of people wanting autographs circled around the stadium. He took pride in saying hello to every one of his fans.
Related: Sportsnet: Assigning Sports Photography, Canadian Style; Victory Journal: An Ad Agency as Magazine Publisher (For PDN Subscribers only; login required.)