A Contest of Horses and Men

At the start and at the finish and in those furlongs between, a horse race becomes a thing of beauty and harshness all in one A Contest of Horses and Men
October 04, 1959

Horse racing is a sport of profound contrasts and warm rituals; a game of bugles and bells; a game where one broken dream steps upon another; a game where "inside" information is sold outside the gates; a game that appeals to society dolls and racket guys all at once, every day. It is conducted at places as different as Belmont and Bay Meadows; Churchill and Charlestown; Delaware and Del Mar; Hialeah and Hawthorne; Santa Anita and Saratoga; Ak-Sar-Ben and the big A. Few know what holds it together or keeps it going. Could it be The Jockey Club or Sloane's Liniment, the Derby or the daily double? But it is really what the camera of John Zimmerman has caught on the next four pages: the metallic springing of the starting gate, the whooping of the riders, the cracking of their whips and the long harsh push to the finish line—a contest between horses and men—that keeps it going. Even the pictures ask a question: Is every foot of the race important or just the last one? There are the oddities of the language: its existential question after the first half of the daily double ("Are you alive?") and the way it muddles its grammar ("Who win the feature?"). Some do not care for the game, but those who do care, care strongly.

PHOTOJOHN G. ZIMMERMANSNARL AT THE START: Out of the gate with savage screams of jockeys and metallic clang of starting bell ringing in their ears, Thoroughbreds get under way. PHOTOJOHN G. ZIMMERMANFURY IN THE STRETCH PHOTOJOHN G. ZIMMERMANGRIMNESS AT THE FINISH