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.



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