Images From the Heart

This column is about obsession, a love of horses and capturing them on film, and a bonding with my daughter that would manifest itself years later with her words. ~ Steve Haskin

Images From the Heart

By Steve Haskin


It was June, 1968, less than three weeks after the opening of the newly built Belmont Park and there I was standing outside the paddock with my father taking a black and white photo of the diminutive Dark Mirage prior to the Mother Goose Stakes with my father’s old camera. This mighty mite would go on to romp in the Mother Goose and the Coaching Club American Oaks to become the first filly to sweep NYRA’s recognized Triple Crown for Fillies.

That would be the first of tens of thousands (maybe more) of photos I would take of horses. Two months later during my first trip to Saratoga for the Travers Stakes I purchased my first camera; a Kodak Brownie Instamatic that produced 3 ½” by 3 ½” color photos. On Travers morning I took my first color photo of a horse when the great Dr. Fager stepped foot on the track for a five-furlong workout in preparation for the following week’s Washington Park Handicap and his quest to break the world record for a mile. Just as he walked by me the rain started. Now standing by myself with everyone else taking cover I was intent on getting a photo of the mighty Dr. Fager up close and feeling I would not get this opportunity again.

I learned something important that morning. The photo I took was not very good as far as horse photos go, but that is not what amateur photos are supposed to be. I didn’t need to take a perfect conformation shot or the finish of a race, as exciting as it might be. I needed to place myself in a photo, not physically, but intimately that would enable me to evoke images of a horse on a personal level, while capturing the essence of the subject.

I carried that photo in my wallet for decades and for one reason only. I did not capture a legendary horse as much as I captured a moment in time. It was as if Dr. Fager lived on through that photo, bringing back memories of a rare encounter with greatness and a special time in Saratoga that in many ways is long gone. To me, that is what photographs represented; images of the mind and heart that enabled time to stand still.

Over the next several years my trusty Instamatic camera went with me wherever there was a horse or a racetrack or a breeding farm, especially my second home, Darby Dan Farm to visit Graustark and his yearling full-brother, later to be named His Majesty, as well as stallions Ribot, Sea-Bird, Sword Dancer, and Chateaugay and a Sea-Bird yearling later known as Little Current. And there were those special mornings at Belmont Park with my dad visiting my newest equine hero Arts and Letters.

The early ‘70s bought an end to my Kodak Instamatic, replaced first by a Canon FTB, then a Canon F-1, along with zoom and telephoto lens. I was now a serious, though still amateur, photographer. And then along came Secretariat, the horse of a lifetime. With my equipment I now had the ability, and in many ways the power, to freeze this legend in time to have for posterity and to portray him in three ways – his amazing physical attributes, bringing out his personality, and capturing intimate moments most people don’t get a chance to witness.

So all through 1973 I spent as much time with Big Red as possible, starting with him galloping majestically to the post for his 3-year-old debut in the Bay Shore Stakes. I spent a number of mornings at his barn at Belmont, shooting him on the walking ring with his illustrious stablemate Riva Ridge, working out, posing with owner Penny Tweedy, following him and Riva to the track, being up close and personal with him in the saddling area before for the Preakness, capturing him break off in a show horse canter at his retirement festivities at Aqueduct, and years later at Claiborne Farm, showing off his playful side that many do not get a chance to see; indulging is his favorite snack, Certs Breath Mints, fed to hm by my wife Joan; and finally coming to the fence to greet my then toddler, Mandy.

I made up 8 x 10 prints of my favorite shots and put them in a soft loose leaf binder kept in plastic pages. And there they lay for almost 50 years, never seen by anyone but me. My only regret was that no one would ever see these photos in which I had captured arguably the greatest horse of all time and all the intimate moments we shared.

Then in 2020 I became involved with and began working with Leonard Lusky. It was Leonard who brought my photos to life after nearly half a century and exposed them to the public, many of which I was able to sign, along with Ron Turcotte, the only surviving member of Team Secretariat. Big Red lived again as I saw him in all his majesty, all his moods, and all those special moments I had frozen in time.

Now some of those photos will be on display Whitney weekend (August 5-7) at Spa Fine Art Gallery on Broadway in Saratoga, (more on this exhibition coming soon) where my Kodak Instamatic first captured Dr. Fager on a stormy morning in 1968, opening up a new world to me.

After Secretariat I had continued to take photos of the stars of the ‘70s, including Forego, Ruffian, Affirmed, Alydar, and Spectacular Bid, a number of which also will be made available to the public this year.

In 1984, my desire to photograph the nation’s top horses took a different turn. That was the year Mandy was born, and for the next 20 years or so, until she went to college, I became obsessed with photographing her with horses, especially the greats, starting when she was 10 months old meeting Northern Dancer at Windfields Farm. Whether at the track or the farm I needed to photograph her with every great horse I could and make up photo albums, hoping that one day she would be able to appreciate and understand my folly and take pride in the elite company she kept growing up.

What I was doing was so unique, Hall of Fame journalist Mary Jean Wall wrote a column in the Lexington Herald-Leader about me photographing my daughter with great horses.

From left to right: Alydar, Lady’s Secret, Affirmed, Genuine Risk and Genuine Reward, and Cigar

We now fast forward to about a dozen years ago and one of Mandy’s visits home when I saw her going through photo albums, not realizing which ones they were. Shortly after, she wrote what you are about to read, which eventually was published in the online racing magazine “Stride,” founded by Scott Serio, now of the award-winning Eclipse Sports Wire.

To this day her words still get me choked up, for it made all those years practically forcing Mandy to pose for photos with famous horses worth every second of it, because I finally knew I had left her with something she was able to appreciate years later. But more important I had built a foundation for her love of horses and a special bonding between father and daughter.

Here is what she wrote and what I am so proud to share. As I read it over and over and get a warm feeling inside each time I rejoice in my obsession, beginning when I fought the elements to get one shot of Dr. Fager in the rain and my wondrous year spent in the company of the immortal Secretariat. And then of course there was photographing Mandy with every horse of the moment and every horse of a lifetime.

Now years later my special horse photos are of one-year-old Mandy sitting on her first horse at Saratoga, placed alongside a photo of Mandy’s one-year-old son Theo sitting on his first horse at Saratoga. Next year I hope to get a shot of Mandy’s now 2-month-old daughter Lily sitting on her first horse at Saratoga. How time marches on, and how the images of horses, whether all-time greats or stable ponies, continue to be a part of our very being.

I leave you with Mandy’s words:

All the Pretty Horses – by Mandy Haskin

“When you wake you shall have all the pretty horses.  Blacks and bays, dapple grays…”

That lullaby pretty much sums up my childhood.  Indeed, I grew up with quite a number of pretty horses.  It started at 10 months old, with a very pretty bay named Northern Dancer.  From that day on, my picture was taken with a lengthy list of champion Thoroughbreds.  A chestnut stallion called Secretariat soon followed.  A sunny afternoon was spent playing in a field with a sweet dapple gray by the name of Lady’s Secret.  I rode in a car up the rolling Pennsylvania hills as Lonesome Glory galloped alongside.  I picked flowers as Da Hoss grazed just inches from me, only a week after his second Breeders Cup Mile win.  Genuine Risk showed off her first foal to me.  And I saw the regal Dahlia twice – first as a baby in my mother’s arms, and then years later, standing on my own two feet, now tall enough to reach her nose.

I introduced my dolls to Precisionist, gave a bouquet of dandelions to Alydar, and Holy Bull nibbled on my hair.  And I have it on good authority that my first kiss just may have been from Cigar.  He was quite the charmer.  Then there was Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Forego, John Henry, Damascus, Mr. Prospector, His Majesty, Danzig, and Spectacular Bid, who by that time was white as snow.  The list goes on and on.  Mighty photo albums lined our shelves at home, as they still do today.  The pages are not as white as they used to be, and some are now frayed along the edges, but the albums are still there, forming a wall of memories that any horse lover would dream about.

On my last trip home, I looked at some of these albums.  The covers creaked open, revealing a rich tapestry of scenes – this horse, that farm, big smiles, outdated outfits.  But instead of joy or nostalgia, a strange emotion crept into my mind.  Regret.  I suddenly realized that I didn’t have one true memory of these scenes.  That my only “memories” of these remarkable experiences were through photos and stories.  Even once I was old enough to capture these moments, I lacked the appreciation to really make them stick in my head.  Despite what my father enthusiastically tried to tell me, I couldn’t fully understand who these horses were, or what they had accomplished.  That feeling of regret was quickly followed by an overwhelming sense of guilt.  How many people would kill for experiences like this?

Yet, to my naïve younger self in these photos, it was just another horse.  It pains me to write that.  Admittedly I took it all for granted, not knowing at the time how lucky I really was.  While my dad was having me pose for pictures (no doubt encountering some resistance and overly dramatic rolling of the eyes in later years), I didn’t realize he was actually giving me a very special gift.  I have to believe that he knew I couldn’t appreciate all this then, and that’s why he froze these moments in time.  He wanted me to look back at them all these years later and think, I did this – how lucky was I?  Sitting here now, looking at a photo of me as a baby with chubby cheeks meeting Northern Dancer, I’m thinking that very thought.

I suppose childhood memories can only be fully embraced in retrospection. Only then do we grieve over their transience and celebrate their sublime purity. That’s why we take photos. So that those moments will one day be suspended in time and bound by gilded picture frames. Untouchable. A brief glimpse into who we were and the experiences that made us who we are today. I am the person I am today because of years of green pastures, white fences, shaded stables, the soft purring of barn cats, the crinkling of peppermint wrappers, and of course the blacks and bays and dapple grays.

Thanks to my dad and a library full of photo albums, I will always have cloudless memories of all those pretty horses.


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48 Responses to “Images From the Heart”

  1. Jeff Amburgey says:

    Love the article. You are the best! I moved from the hills of Kentucky to Versailles in 8th grade. A friend took me to Keeneland and I was hooked. I like to bet but most of all I like the horses. My favorite was Summer Squall. I was at Keeneland for his debut and after looking at the breeding – Storm Bird and Weekend Surprise – I pronounced – that’s next year’s Derby winner. Well second wasn’t too bad. I saw Neil Howard years later at Keeneland and told him that was my favorite horse of all time and he said it was his too. Pretty cool. My second favorite was Easy Goer – Shug is still my favorite trainer. Probably my favorite race of all time was when his Personal Ensign beat Winning Colors at the wire in the Breeders Cup – which I attended. Such a wonderful sport, such great memories. How many more Keeneland visits do I have? Life is finite but I will enjoy each and every one to the fullest!

  2. Katie HayesDVM says:

    I was too young and naive to appreciate the great Secretariat passing up an opportunity to go see the 1973 Belmont. I knew very little about racing even though I rode and showed an ex TB racehorse. But when I took a job on a Thoroughbred breeding farm and got into racing my world changed and I got enlightened. Reading Steve Haskins books and articles has educated me about how great the great horses were. Now that I am old and horse racing experienced I appreciate it
    Thank you Steve and Mandy

  3. Matthew W says:

    Jerry Hollendorfer…who led California in winners for decades…..had animpressive debut 2yo at Los Al, yesterday—his first Cali winner this year, on July 1st ….

    • Davids says:

      The same trainer also had an impressive Army Mule 2 year old colt, Wild Mule, win at Monmouth Park today. Three Tapit 3 year old colts I was looking forward to at the beginning of the year had very encouraging wins over the past two days. Zatip yesterday, Capensis and Charge It today.

      If Charge It can focus his mind entirely on racing in the Travers Stakes, rather than other distractions, he’ll take a ton of beating. With Zandon or no Zandon.

      • Matthew W says:

        The Belmont Tapit was out of Tara’s Tango, a friend told me she was a beautifully built mare….another first time starter–by California Chrome named Mucho Chrome…..ran for $8k, at Pleasanton, in race five, I believe….RECCOMENDED VIEWING! It’s why Horse Racingis a fickle sport, imaging… put up a big win wager…and peruse your emotions, as you watch race! KEEP watching….

        • Davids says:

          Matthew, your friend is correct about Tara’s Tango but I’m surprised you don’t know her quite well. Tara’s Tango raced mainly at Santa Anita under the tutelage of Jerry Hollendorfer.

  4. Matthew W says:

    Seems graded stakes races in US are going to be short fields, not so in Canada and the difference is the lasix ban. ….seems like that’s what is happening….

  5. Jiffy says:

    Your daughter is not only beautiful, she is also very wise. I loved her reminiscences. I also loved your comments about being at Darby Dan at the height of its greatness. In that era I was a huge fan of the Darby Dan Farm and their horses and their bloodlines. I like horses bred for distance and they all were. I still like to see their names in pedigrees. Recently I was trying to think of full brothers who were both outstanding at stud, and Graustark and His Majesty were the first ones that came to mind. It must have been wonderful to know all those stallions up close and personal. I hope you write some columns about your experiences at Darby Dan and the personalities of the horses. To those of us who wish we had been there, it would be fascinating. Do you know the name of the foal whose birth you witnessed?

  6. Lynda King says:

    Steve, of all the photos you have shared over the years, the ones with Mandy and Joan have been the ones I have loved and enjoyed the most.
    You and Joan must be so very proud of Mandy. Not only is she a talented and gifted dancer, she is also a talented and gifted writer just as you and your Dad.

  7. Davids says:

    Steve, staying at Darby Dan Farm must have been exhilarating, every day. Being able to visit Sea-Bird and Ribot, among others, as part of the farm ‘fabric’ rather than as a guest would have been wonderful. You have so many special photographs to cherish.

    If only Apple had developed iPhones in the 60s or even earlier. Imagine having live video of all the great racehorses of the past you could just play on a monitor whenever you wanted. Memory can get a little unclear as time passes and old film of yesteryear’s racing great is often murky.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      It was so great staying on the farm and seeing so many future stars as babies. Sea Bird was gorgeous and Ribot may have had the most unique and quirky personality of all time. Graustark was simply magnificent. Roberto had streak in him. Little Current was so flashy and so beautiful. I spent all my vacations there and even gave tours of the stallion barns to visitors. Saw my first and only foal being born. The head stallion groom Floyd became a close friend.

    • Matthew W says:

      David’s I’m glad…and fortunate that the smart phones came after my prime years, seems like the more technology the less appreciation of simpler things, when my mother, father, brother, sister and dog would all gather on or near our parent’s bed and we watched our one black and white television…..and we’re happy for that……playing spades on the patio picnic table…and we’re happy with that…..getting the $.75 cent Racing Form, and going out to Santa Anita and the 60,000 throng of humanity—and happy with that!

      • Davids says:

        Yes Matthew, there are many times the desire for a slower, more peaceful time. Time to truly enjoy things. Racing is so fast now that a Grade 1 win is barely appreciated, it’s on to the next race within seconds. What I wish to have had, through modern technology, is live video of the old great horses that I adored as a child.

        Your mind can only grasp/reflect back so much. Having a video of you physically touching say Brigadier Gerard, Dr. Fager, Allez France, Seattle Slew etc would warm the heart/mind.

  8. Ms Blacktype says:

    This was like a second father’s day present! (And me not even a dad, LOL.) If this story was a movie consisting only of these meetings between you and those storied horses (and Mandy and the second batch of storied horses), I would watch it over and over. Reading it is a close second!

  9. Lisa Palombo says:

    Can’t wait to see these images up close and meet you officially :0) in Saratoga!

  10. Lisa Palombo says:

    Beautiful Steve! Can’t wait to see these images up close and meet you officially :0) in Saratoga!

  11. Derek Manthey says:

    Thank you Steve for letting us look to the past with your eyes and camera and now through Mandy’s memories. In doing so you invoke our memories of then and the Titans of the sport especially with starting with Northern Dancer who got me hooked at an age of 8 on that first Saturday in May and still remained hooked to this day. I reiterate Thanks Steve!

  12. Kenny says:

    Wow, Steve you have lived a life that most can only dream about. Thank you for sharing it with us. You are blessed with a wonderful family.

  13. Deacon says:

    What impresses me most about your writings Steve is your ability to express what you feel & make the reader believe that he shared every moment of your journey.
    The who’s who of horses you named in this blog certainly stirred my own memories. Th
    is is truly a cathartic piece & I really enjoyed reading it (twice).
    Like you I really liked Graustark & was waiting anxiously for the meeting with Buckpasser, which never came.
    I loved Northern Dancer, he is still my all time favorite sire. Dark Mirage is special & I am hopeful that one day you will write about her story. The first South American horse I ever saw run was Forli, sire of Forego. One never hears much about him.
    Just wanted you to know that this story was wonderful…

  14. TommyMc says:

    What a treat! Great pictures! Steve Haskin shared 9 pictures with us today and I’ve been going over them trying to pick a favorite. It’s very hard. In a photo-finish, I’ll pick “Mandy with Genuine Risk & Genuine Reward” over “Spectacular Bid and Mandy sharing a laugh” at the very top of the article. Tough call. A case can be made for any one of the nine. Since we’re on SECRETARIAT.COM, the photograph of Steve Haskin holding Mandy with Secretariat is an obvious choice.

  15. Leslie M Kuretzky says:

    I should not have clicked the button so fast. Back in 1994, I was fortunate to meet some great horses at Windfields Farm in Oshawa. I saw Ascot Knight, Regal Classic, Regal Intention but then I saw Vice Regent. He was HUGE and well mannered. I felt so much in awe to meet him. He was without doubt Canadas Greatest Stallion. My Husband took photos of me with the horses but I just sadly cannot find them. This article is beautiful and fabulous. I would be so much in awe to meet more famous horses. I prefer meeting them over celebrities and people who think they are celebrities.

  16. Leslie M Kuretzky says:

    FABULOUS article.

  17. Jo Anne says:

    When I graduated from high school, my best friend and I took a trip to KY. In addition to walking the cross country course at the KY Horse Park, we visited a number of TB and SB farms. I was lucky enough to get photos of Big Red and still look at those fading memories from time to time.

  18. Sheila says:

    One of my favorite photos I ever took was Seattle Slew crossing the wire at the Belmont Stakes. Shot on an old instamatic from the grandstand. Grainy and blurry but every time I looked at it I was transported back to that day and that feeling. Sadly the photo has since been “lost” but it lives on in my memory. Nobody can take that away. You and your daughter are so lucky to have all those memories to cherish.

  19. Matthew W says:

    Terrific column ….I got an up close with Spectacular Bid, my brother picked me up at work and we shot up to Santa Anita…they were running the Strub, and my brother told me Bid was spectacular….so as we walked towards the saddling barn,through the big crowd, I said why dont we try to go to the receiving barn, instead, which was not allowed…as we approached the barn they had already come out, so we joined the procession, and immediately I recognized Relaunch, well bred buttermilk Grey, and beautiful….then Flying Paster, a well balanced blood Bay, who developed into one of the best looking horses I ever saw. ..then another really well bred horse, Laz Barerra’s Valdez, a beautiful chestnut…and then there was Bid—all legs and a big head, and I said “THAT’S BID”?…..and Bud Delp hollored over “you guys are in for a treat, today–“….. we stood at the rail, in front of Clockers Corner, which is at the top of the stretch ..we always went there, because it was free, and I found that with that vantage point you could see horses in their LEANS, and when horses were tiring they’d lose their lean, and bear out— so the foursome leaves there, Relaunch is sent and a guy goes “Attaboy, Eddie”…and he sets torrid fractions, and Bid is last, 12 lengths back…but down the backstretch Shoemaker makes his signature early move, and I liken it to Secretariats Preakness, they just moved right up to the front, and…1:32 4/5 mile I yell to my brother “Shoe moved to early, Paster’s finally got him”! And then..I saw his lean, he and Shoe were practically at a 45 degree angle, Bid had tons left!..Pierce splits horses with Paster, who is flying— but to no avail…..

    For years and years after, I “planned” on a cross country roadie, to New York just to see Bid, who was the best horse I ever saw run….but kids happen, life happens, and I never did go see the 4th best looking horse in the 1980 Strub Stakes, I found out Spectacular Bid even fooled me there, too, when I viewed those iconic pictures of a white horse in the moonlight….my magic horse.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Great story Matthew. Btw the top photo is my daughter with Bid.

      • Matthew W says:

        You know Steve …I WONDERED about that! He was a spectacular animal….a dud as a sire, and then…..age 25 was better looking than ever those voluminous albums of yours are priceless gifts to Mandy….and to us! You had one child and you hit it outta the park! Like Bid you have gotten better with age, and that’s saying a lot, cuz you always have been a graded stakes performer!

        • Matthew W says:

          That picture…Mandy turning toward the camera and her lively and lively smile. ..Bid sounding off with head raised… as good a picture as anyone could take!

    • Charlene says:

      I love your story! I went to see Bid that day, he will always be one of my favorites! As a matter of fact, I left my best friends wedding reception to see Bids last race in California. He doesn’t know, but I’m sure he’d forgive me!!! Bid was fabulous.

      • Matthew W says:

        Thank you Charlene, a side story on that day….I worked at Wimpy’s Submarines, and my boss Buff sent a parlay wager with us….a $5 Radar Ahead/Double Discount exacta box…Radar Ahead was a beautiful brown Arizona bred, and FAST—he won by many lengths, and Double Discount was an old, swaybacked Cal bred,, with back class,, and he came 2nd, and we had $45 to wager on Shoe’s horse in the last race ….it was First Albert, and they won! Paid huge, and we got back to Wimpy’s, handed Buff a stack of hundreds….and he put two in his wallet, and told me to divide the rest with the employees, The Buffer was the best! Later that year I was on track and saw First Albert win a big race, I think The Swaps Stakes…..