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.
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.