This week I’m at my favorite yearly event, Louisville’s own — the Kentucky Derby.

It’s my 34th trip to the Run for the Roses.

Since my great buddy Dan Dry invited me to join him here in 1981, I’ve only failed to be at Churchill Downs once on the first Saturday in May. In 1994, my then boss and always mentor Heinz Kluetmeier sent me to Beijing, I think it was because he wanted the finish line to himself, but that’s another story for another time.

There’s nothing quite like the Derby.  It’s an event steeped in style and tradition. Rich in nostalgia. Drama. Intrigue.

My gear list for this event is sizeable. I’m bringing 40 DSLR cameras, 44 lenses that range from 14mm to 600mm. 60 magic arms, 100 super clamps, radios, hundreds of feet of wire, connectors, tripods, and a bunch of other stuff that makes all of this work.

The way I cover the race changes every year.  Which brings new challenges, new demands, lots of worry, and a whole bunch of stress.

The first time I showed up to cover the race I had three cameras and three lenses.

One of those lenses, a Nikkor manual focus 50mm f1.4 has been with me every single visit I’ve made to the Derby.

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 05:   at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Bill Frakes for ESPN)

LOUISVILLE, KY – MAY 05: at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Allison Hess)

I’m not superstitious. This little guy has earned a permanent spot in the rotation.

Laura says I’m a softie.  Not everyone would agree with her. But I am sentimental.

Most of my gear goes in cases and travels under the plane.  Only a few things get carried into the cabin with me. When I was packing and running low on space it was the one lens I refused to remove from my roller case.  Far from the most expensive, or fragile, but maybe the most precious.

No idea how many images I’ve made with him, several hundred thousand any way, and while not all of them have worked out that’s been my fault.


He’s hung from the roof, he’s been buried in the dirt under the rail, traveled through the crowds affixed to every flagship body Nikon has produced with an F mount — at least 12 different models — he’s been left out in the rain, and under a blazing sun.

Saturday, he’ll be doing some heavy lifting again, attached to a D500.  And you’ll see the results.

Follow me on Instagram (@billfrakes) and Twitter (@billfrakes) for complete ESPN coverage of this year’s Derby.

This is home.  This is Nebraska.  This is the American west.  The last frontier.

Last fall while working on the Nebraska Project, I spent a good chunk of time in Scotts Bluff county.

Growing up here I read about everywhere else.  I was restless and ready to go.  I needed to see what was out there.

Little did I know that after seeing so much of the world this simple view would stir so many emotions deep in my heart. 


Over the last year while sharing images from the on-going Nebraska Project, many people have expressed an interest to see the state for themselves. To experience the American West firsthand.

I am excited to announce the Nebraska Sandhills photography workshop October 7-10, 2016.  During our time together in Nebraska, there will be classes on creating video with DSLR cameras, gathering audio in the field, making powerful still images and creating compelling time-lapse sequences.

Click to learn more about how you can join this exciting trip.   


It is no secret that one of my favorite sporting events to cover is the Kentucky Derby. From the pageantry to the exhilarating race, the first Saturday in May is special.

Today, Calvin Borel announced his retirement. A wonderful person and talented jockey, he was an entertainer on and off the track. Watching him ride the rail with Mine That Bird at Churchill Downs may have been one of the most exciting things I have ever witnessed in sports.


With 50-1 odds, Calvin Borel went down in the history books. In honor of his career, I invite you to take a look back to that race with a piece we did for Sports Illustrated.

Mine That Bird (8) crosses the finish line with jockey Calvin Borel aboard Horse Racing: 2009 Kentucky Derby Saturday Churchill Downs/Louisville, KY 02-MAY-2009 X82284 TK3 CREDIT: Bill Frakes

Today, we remember Jeff Lukas, the “glue” behind D. Wayne Lukas Racing Stables for many years. Jeff was instrumental in developing some of horse racing most storied stallions, including 1988 Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors.


Three years ago, Laura and I were fortunate enough to work with our dear friend Tim Layden on Jeff’s story.

Peyton Manning. Lots of time spent covering that guy through the years.

From a teenager through a Hall of Fame career, it’s been a yearly visit.

At the conclusion of Super Bowl 50, I followed him into the scrum.

He had his young son in his arms, and after the trophy presentation he came looking for a couple of women. His mother, and his wife.

He reached for them, they reached for him. His mother caressed his cheek, he reached over the horde to touch his wife’s hand. A lovely connection in the middle of a media and fan swarm.


Earlier those moments were less hectic to capture.  But then, we were all a lot younger.


Copyright © 2016 Straw Hat Visuals Blog.