Rennard, Ellen

Ellen Rennard, Groton, Massachusetts, USA

The Downs at Albuquerque

Forty years ago, horseracing was the most popular spectator sport in America.  Around that time, I rode a horse on the exercise track at Arlington Park, and, as women were just beginning to ride in big races, I entertained a fleeting dream of becoming a jockey.  Decades later, beginning in 2003, when I was teaching in Albuquerque, I returned to photograph at The Downs at Albuquerque, a Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racetrack at the New Mexico state fairgrounds. Even though crowds have thinned, and horses are cooled on mechanical hot walkers instead of being led by grooms, I found much that appeared unchanged.  Focusing on the people, horses, and trappings of ordinary life at the track, I chose black and white film and silver gelatin prints to suggest the look of photographs from the heyday of racing which even now hang on the walls of tack rooms and The Jockey Club at The Downs.

In spite of what still remains, racing has declined, and many small and mid-level tracks have closed.   One groom told me that most racetracks have become more like bus stations, with strangers just coming and going. “It used to be that everyone would get together after they had finished with the horses,” he said. “Now it’s just a job.  Still, at this track, it’s more like the old days.”  For now, vestiges of the past exist in the shadows of the grandstand that overlooks the finish line, and, in spite of the odds, true horsemen and women endure.  For them, the horse still matters.  They are the ones who said to me, “We need you to tell our side of the story,” and that is what I aim to do.