> Bless Their Hearts Mom: History Corner / Book Review: RaceLens by By Philip Von Borries, Foreword by Bill Mooney
Thursday, August 20, 2015

History Corner / Book Review: RaceLens by By Philip Von Borries, Foreword by Bill Mooney

Disclosure / Disclaimer: I received this book, free of charge, from Pelican Publishing, for review purposes on this blog. No other compensation, monetary or in kind, has been received or implied for this post. Nor was I told how to post about it 

racelens cover


As mud flies through the air behind their hooves, Carry Back and Crozier dramatically hurtle toward the finish line in the 1961 Florida Derby, captured in expert black and white photography. In an 1890 race at Coney Island Jockey Club, Salvator defeats Tenny by a matter of inches in what may be the first instance of a photo finish. As they battle down the stretch at the Churchill Downs, Head Play and Brokers Tip dash toward their iconic Fighting Finish at the 1933 Kentucky Derby and are caught in a classic image of racing legend. Every one of these amazing moments in history has been preserved in breathtaking detail by skilled photographers and included in this stunning collection of vintage images introduced by seasoned racing journalist Bill Mooney. 

racelens citation photo
Photo of Citation by Charles Cook

Thoroughbred racing journalist Philip Von Borries provides insightful commentary and vivid introductions, drawing photos from the award-wining Keeneland Library in Lexington, Kentucky, among other sources. He illuminates behind-the-scenes histories to highlight the master lensmen who produced these mesmerizing images. Providing biographies on all nine of the photographers featured in the book, Von Borries examines thoroughbred racing and its fabulous history as seen through their eyes. Photographers include New Orleans-born Louis Hodges Sr., the renowned C. C. Cook, John Hemment, Bert Clark Thayer, Bert Morgan, J. C. “Skeets” Meadors, Robert McClure, Wallace Lowry, and Jim Raftery.

racelens regret photo
Photo of Regret by Charles Cook


Surprisingly, this book has some of my favorite racing photos of all time in it!  When you're young, you don't pay attention to the photographer's name, you just are in awe over the majesty/power/dignity that the images share of these amazing athletes. But so many of these images came BEFORE the age of television, much less social media. Yet they are iconic images. Ones that those interested in thorough bread racing know and love, as they document amazing moments in the sport, like the First Filly to win the Kentucky Derby, Regret above. In looking at the simple framed photo, you can see her power and when compared to the 'boys', you can see how close she was in characteristics.

racelens man o war photo
Photo of Man O' War by Lou Hodges Sr

In New Orleans, the game '6 degrees of separation' is usually much less (say 3-4), so it was not really a shock to turn the page and see the seminal picture of Man O' War, one of the best know, loved and prestigious racers, and realize that the photographer was a great grandfather of one of Miss Grace's Irish dance mates. Small world indeed. I used that photo in my head to measure Kentucky Derby entrants against for at least 20 years, and was right a good amount of the time. Funny how that works!

This book shares about the triumphs and classic moments that the photographers caught in the early days of racing, and how the shots changed, as racing grew and became televised. As racing grew, more action was caught and these amazing pictures show it all. For me, it was like seeing pictures of my childhood- all the horses and trainers I admired, and followed. It's an amazing book and one I'd recommend for anyone who loves horse racing. 

About the Foreword Author: 

Bill Mooney has written about horses his entire life. He served as the associate editor of the now-defunct Thoroughbred Record and of the more recent Thoroughbred Times. He was a staff writer for Blood-Horse magazine and received two Eclipse Awards and numerous honors for his writing. He lives in the heart of thoroughbred racing country in Lexington, Kentucky.

About the Author: 

Philip Von Borries is the recipient of both the Eclipse Award for thoroughbred racing and the John Hervey Award for harness racing coverage. He has worked on publicity and television production for the Kentucky Derby and many other sporting events. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

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