The Art of Race Riding

This weekend they run the Preakness Stakes at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans! (My grandmother’s favorite flower.) In the discombobulated universe of 2020, this Triple Crown race (usually the middle one) ends up running last. The usual last one (Belmont) ran first - with a shortened track. And the usual first one (the Kentucky Derby) landed somehow in the middle. !?!?!

In the days leading up to Saturday’s run, I propose a reflection back to a steadier horse-racing time to calm our nerves. I’ll be posting daily images and stories from Robert’s collection to help us remember.

On June 17, 1957, Sports Illustrated came out with an issue with Robert’s portrait of Eddie Arcaro  on the cover. Titled  “The Art of Race Riding,” it was the first of five parts. It cost a quarter. In the series, Arcaro - to this day, the only jockey to have won two Triple Crowns - describes his art. And Robert illustrates the details. The series showcased Robert’s brilliance in capturing in a drawing the intensity of a horse’s strength and movement in a race.

Later that year, Robert copyrighted a 31-page limited edition portfolio of these drawings, along with Arcaro’s text. Printed by the Wright Lithographing Company of New York on high quality 12” x 16 1/2” stock, it’s an astonishing relic. Robert had a handful of the individual illustrations from the project printed separately.

Here are just a few images to get a sense: the SI cover, Robert’s separate lithograph of “The Master’s Hands” (that’s what they called Arcaro - “The Master”), the title page of the portfolio and couple of interior page shots. Robert’s attention to the visual detail of the true Art of Race Riding is extraordinary.

Arcaro’s Triple Crown wins came in 1938 and 1941. So Robert missed those races. (He had just turned 14 in 1938, and in 1941, he was headed to the Merchant Marine.) But he was able to photograph two great Triple Crown winning partnerships: Jean Cruguet on Seattle Slew (1977) and Steve Cauthen on Affirmed the following year.

Those stories and pics coming up this week!

Also, in light of my reference above to a “steadier horse-racing time,” I will post a recognition that those times weren’t steady for everyone. The post will highlight the very significant, and too often neglected, contribution of African-American trainers, grooms, and jockeys in the long history of US horse-racing. 

Finally, I’ll do a breakdown of “The Art of Race Riding” on Friday, with each of its parts: Notes on Race Riding, Pre-Race, The Start, The Whip, and The Finish.

Robert’s photographs and drawings will accompany each.

If you’re interested, we actually have a limited number of the original Art of Race Riding portfolios available, as well as any number of racing photographs. Let me know, and I’ll send more details.

In the meantime: here’s to this Saturday’s Black-Eyed Susans! And stay tuned this week.


Thanks!

Dawn








Robert Riger Classic Sport!

Here we go!

The Robert Riger Living Trust enters a new phase: the consolidation and organization of Robert’s complete body of work into something we call Robert Riger Classic Sport. 

The collection encompasses his photography, yes, but also many of his original lithographs, some informal (never published) graphite and water color sketches, other original drawings, his writing, and masses of memorabilia that he accumulated in the course of his career. We pull it all together in a lovely gallery space in Tuscumbia, Alabama.  I attach pics of the space-in-progress. There’s only about a fifth of the collection there now. The rest - currently in storage in Los Angeles - should be available for pick-up early next year, depending on the stupid virus. I had a chance to do a quick review of the LA work last February, just before things shut down. There is some pretty amazing stuff out there.

That said, there is some pretty amazing stuff here already: A couple of football plays diagrammed on the back of Robert’s plane ticket by Vince Lombardi, as referenced by David Maraniss in his book When Pride Still Mattered on page 254, as a for instance? Or a drawing Robert did of Joe Namath in New York Magazine, the page torn out from the magazine and signed by Joe himself? An extraordinary range of original photographic prints of his classic images, many signed, some with cropping and print quality notes. Many framed photographs and drawings that he personally prepared for one of his many exhibits. And so much more.

We have a huge project ahead of us, not only with inventory and organization, but with the valuation of it all. We will be launching an Ebay store for some things. (Prints from his Shell series, framed Sports Illustrated covers with his drawings and photographs, Olympic press bibs, etc.) We also plan a store to link to this site for photo and other gift purchases. Once we have his “vintage” photographs valued, we will work with curators and galleries on those sales. And then there are the original lithographs of some of his classic illustrations…

Finally, we work to implement a print-to-order service for fans wanting a particular image that we might not have in stock. Part of the consolidation/organization effort - an inventory of the negatives he’s left behind.

In the meantime - welcome to the Robert Riger Classic Sport blog! I hope to keep admirers of Robert’s work up to date with our ongoing projects, and to post regular Riger images that parallel the current sports calendar. We work hard, for instance, to be social-media-ready for next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo. (Robert shot every Summer Olympic games from Rome in 1960 to Barcelona in 1992.)  Closer in time -  the delayed Preakness runs next weekend on October 3. In my next post, I’ll preview it with some of his race photographs. And a lovely “portfolio” series called The Art Of Race Riding - drawings and text from an Eddie Arcaro Sports Illustrated piece in the fifties.

As promised, a few shots of The Gallery as it comes together. (Also a tease of the Lombardi play diagrams. They deserve a blog entry in their own right, and will get one!) Lots of work to do. I’d love to hear from you, with any questions, comments, ideas or even memories of what Robert’s work may have meant to you. Please feel free to let me know of specific requests/interests. I’ll do my best to find an image or two for you! 


More soon,

Dawn (Aberg),  RRLT Trustee



The Big Breaks

“As a boy I grew up over the Polo Grounds in New York and lived in the apartment house on the right at the top of this early photograph. I could hear the crowd roar when I walked home from school or was doing my homework. The old ballpark had two decks with a long opening between them. I would sit on the rocks at Coogan’s Bluff with the regulars and watch the Giants play baseball and the New York Football Giants play football from that high vantage point. Some of us had binoculars. Later on for 55 cents I sat in the bleachers on Sunday to watch a pro football game. I loved Tuffy Lehmans of the Giants, loved it when the Bears and Redskins came to town. From the end zone I saw the pattern of play, the deception and blocking and this perspective became football to me. 

I did some football sketches and a big drawing over that summer and Ray Walsh and Jack Mara gave me my first field pass to work from the sidelines during their games. “Who are we to stand in the way of a great career,” they quipped and a firm friendship began.

A few months later I took the same drawings to Time-Life who were just about to start a new magazine in 1954. Sports Illustrated liked my drawings and began giving me work. Those were the big breaks that got me started.”

- Robert Riger in his “Career Bio,” 1994

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