To the win

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It’s Sunday, so it’s time for another photo of the week and the story behind the image.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about my disappointment with the closing of Beulah Park, a nice, little race track in Grove City (a Columbus, Ohio suburb) that ended its final meet in May 2014. The blog accompanied a photo of jockey Edgar Paucar, a very successful jockey primarily at small tracks like Beulah, in the winner’s circle.

Here’s another photo Paucar at work, again riding a winner. He’s encouraging Angel Wings to what turned out to be an easy eight-length win in a five-furlong race on Nov. 26, 2008 — the day before Thanksgiving.

I like how the photo shows Paucar’s concentration and intensity, which contrasts with Angel Wings’ expression that seems to say “chill, dude, we’ve got this.”

The win on Angel Wings was part of a very good day for Paucar. He rode winners in the first three races that day (Angel Wings was his third winner). His mount finished third in the fourth race before he rode another winner in the fifth and a second-place finisher in the sixth. Four winners, a second and a third on the day. Not bad.

A trip to the winner’s circle wasn’t unusual for Paucar. He has ridden almost 2,800 winners in his career to date. He was the leading jockey at Beulah Park just about every year he rode there and was the track’s all-time leading jockey when it closed. 

He’s also a good guy. When I first started shooting races at Beulah Park I dropped some prints off with track officials so they could give them to the jockeys. A few days later I received an email through my website from Paucar thanking me for the photos. I was surprised, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. A few years later, around Christmas, I received another email from him, again thanking me for all the photos I had on my website showing him or his wife, Raina, who was also a jockey.

When Beulah was still operating I’d drive down to the track every week or so and take photos of a few races. I’d stand at the rail to get shots of horses battling down the stretch, then walk to the paddock area to get some “atmosphere” photos — horses warming up, trainers saddling their horses, jockeys mounting, etc. — before hitting the betting window and returning to the rail for the next race.

On this day, the crowd was smaller than normal at the track that seldom drew very many spectators in its final years. Maybe it was the rain from the day before and that morning that kept people away from the afternoon racing. Or maybe it was the fact that it was the day before Thanksgiving. Whatever the reason, I could move quickly around the track grounds without bumping into anyone. And the sun was out, which made the afternoon a bit more pleasant.

I admit I was disappointed in the demise of Beulah Park. It was a nice track that had a long history. Beulah Park was the first thoroughbred racing track in Ohio when it opened in 1923, but the facility had fallen into disrepair in recent years as the owners lobbied with the state to approve the use of video slot machines and other similar devices to provide a non-racing revenue stream. The plan was to create “racinos,” sites that would offer both live racing and other gambling.

In 2010, Penn National Gaming, a leading operator of casinos and racetracks, bought Beulah Park, creating expectations that the company would pump money into improving the facility and increase purses to attract better horses to the track. But that wasn’t the company’s intent. In 2011 Penn National announced that it was closing Beulah Park to eliminate competition for a new casino the company was building in Columbus. It transferred the racing license to a new facility near Youngstown.

And the countdown began for the death of Beulah Park. The final racing card at the track was on May 3, 2014. More than 5,000 people showed up to say goodbye to the track.

Edgar Paucar rode the winner in the eighth and final race that day, earning his last paycheck from Beulah Park with a photo-finish win on longshot Rookie Gladden. Rookie Gladden paid $31.20 to win. 

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.

TECHNICAL INFORMATION

Date/time: Nov. 26, 2008, 1:49 p.m.  
Location: 39°53’17” N, 83°6’1” W (Show in Google Maps)  
Camera: Canon EOS 40D  
Lens: Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L    
Aperture: f/5.6
Shutter: 1/800th second  
ISO: 200