Horse racing is a gorgeous, cinematic sport, but a horizontal one. The length of the track, the laterality of movement, the dimensions of the horses themselves, all lend themselves to landscape. So how to translate the biggest racing moment in 37 years to the cover of a magazine? Sports Illustrated figured it out, and it’s fantastic.
Above is the cover of this week’s issue (here’s Tim Layden’s story), and on SI.com, deputy picture editor Erick Rasco explains how the shot came to be. Planted in the home stretch, Rasco never actually saw American Pharoah take the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown. Because too many people in front of him wanted to see it too:
“During the race I had no view of the track. The crowd had begun to stand on chairs and benches,” Rasco said. “The only way I knew to fire the camera as American Pharoah approached the finish was from the intensity of the crowd around me yelling and cheering. Based on that, I fired a burst of frames from my camera. I didn’t see any of the horses at the finish. I hoped I timed it right with the crowd guiding me.”
“When I finally got to review the images in the workroom I was both relieved and thrilled. The right horse at the right time,” Rasco added.
The result was perfect timing, and a happy-accident illustration of a dimension that might have gone overlooked: that of depth. Ninety thousand people traveled to Belmont Park (attendance was capped to avoid the crowding and transportation problems of recent years) and crammed the three-tiered grandstand, racing’s largest, hoping for their own view of a Triple Crown. Rasco, something like 20-deep from the rail, captured the fans capturing their own history. This, then, is the way to remember racing’s biggest moment—not just a horse winning the race of his life, but a mass of humanity packing in to see him run.