Capturing the Triple Crown on Super 8

Published on website: June 13, 2011
Categories: Archiving , Film Capabilities , Super 8mm , The StoryBoard Blog
Secretariat wins the 1973 Triple Crown
Secretariat wins the 1973 Triple Crown - by Bob Gately

Bob Gately became a horse lover when he saw Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney in National Velvet when he was 10 years old. Little did he know that later in life, he would shoot some rare and valuable motion pictures of horses.

Gately started bringing his Cavalier Super 8 movie camera to the Belmont racetrack in 1971, when an unlikely rags-to-riches horse named Canonero II was generating tremendous hype as a Triple Crown candidate. Canonero II had surprised everyone by winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, and a victory at the Belmont Stakes would make the horse the first since Citation in 1948 to complete horseracing’s ultimate feat.

Canonero II failed, but two years later, Gately caught lightning in a bottle. Secretariat won the Belmont by 31 lengths and broke the record by two seconds. Gately was thrilled to have captured such a historic victory on film.

“The secret was gaining the right spot in the first tier grandstand,” Gately recalls. “I was able to stand in the aisle and work my way to the upper tier rail, where I could lean over and have an unobstructed view. There were unruly people all around me who in the excitement were pushing and shoving and yelling and pounding. I had to use my arm as a kind of Steadicam to try and hold the camera still and get a decent shot. As far as the images were concerned, that was easy. I used Kodak film and processing, and the results speak for themselves.”

Gately was hooked, and he proceeded to capture two more Triple Crown winners as they crossed the finish line – Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978, who fought off a thrilling challenge from Ayldar to win by a nose.

“Starting about 10 years later, I’ve always rooted against any Triple Crown contender going into the Belmont because I wanted my collection of three Triple Crown winners to remain unique,” he says. “I definitely feel a sense of pride.”

Race enthusiasts today say that the Triple Crown has become more unlikely because horses are now bred and trained to excel at specific distances.

Gately knows that his images will last because they are on film. He has had them transferred to digital for easy viewing, and he sent a copy of Steve Cauthen, the jockey who rode Affirmed to victory.

“I guess my favorite is Secretariat,” he says, “because I saw the feature film and learned about the dramatic backstory of the owner, who had financial difficulties before Secretariat’s great run. I’ll never forget panning back 31 lengths after Secretariat crossed the finished line before finding the second place horse.”

Today, Gately is an award-winning scriptwriter. Because he caught those treasured moments on film, his memories will literally never fade. He’s also hoping to hit the trifecta – those rare images might turn out to be valuable as well.