by Heather Pettinger
Longtime track photographer Bob Coglianese looked back at his 50-plus-year career in horse racing photography. Founded by Bob in 1962, Coglianese Photos is the official track photographer at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course, as well as Gulfstream Park in South Florida. Bob resides in Florida, while his son Adam manages the family operation at NYRA’s three tracks and Gulfstream.
The Coglianese Photos tent can be found on track near the Saratoga clubhouse entrance adjacent to the paddock.
When did you decide you wanted to become a photographer?
In my early teens. My uncle was a photographer in New York since 1920 and I always looked up to him and when the opportunity arose for me to work with him, I took it. That was in 1952. His name was Mike Sirico and, in his day, he worked as an apprentice to a photographer that was here in practically 1900, C.C. Cook. My uncle worked as an apprentice for practically no money and he took over the position in 1955 and then I went to work for him. There were no celebrities in my family. He was the closest thing to a celebrity, his name was plastered around. He had won a very prestigious award in his day and I looked up to him.
How do you feel about your son Adam following in your footsteps?
I’m thrilled that he’s in the business and that he’s excelled in it. I honestly believe he’s better than I was at that point.
What is your favorite photo?
Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths, which Sports Illustrated called the greatest racing photo of the 20th century. It was a big race, it was the Belmont Stakes, and there was a photo stand over there and I was on it, shooting the race and it just so happened I got that shot.
Are there any pictures that you’ve taken that became surprisingly popular?
Well, there are numerous photos, but you could say “The Savage” photo, where one horse was trying to bite another horse alongside him. He didn’t get a hold of the other horse, but he tried, and it’s proven to be a very popular photo - as popular as the Secretariat photo. I also took a picture of Secretariat working out for the Belmont Stakes. I took it at 6:30 in the morning at Belmont Park and Mrs. Tweedy [Penny Chenery] called the photo the greatest picture of Secretariat ever taken. That was a surprise. I didn’t expect that it would reach that kind of accolade.
What are the difficulties of shooting horse racing that differs from other sports?
Today, there aren’t as many real difficulties, of course, with motorized cameras. Basically, you point and shoot - I’m oversimplifying it, but basically, that’s what it is. When I took Secretariat, I took it with one shot, that’s all I had. That was when it was difficult, but today with digital and motorized, it’s a lot easier.
Do you have a favorite race?
My favorite race was a race between Exceller and Seattle Slew. That was the [1978 Jockey Club] Gold Cup. I thought it was the most amazing race a horse ever ran and lost. They went a mile and a half, and he [Seattle Slew] went three quarters in 1:09, wire to wire, and just got beat by a nose. I think, in my opinion, that Seattle Slew was as great as Secretariat, maybe even better. But, my favorite horse of all time is Kelso.
Do you have a favorite Kelso moment?
When he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup for the fifth time in a row [in 1964]. He carried 124 pounds and went two miles. No horse compared to him in his day. He was a gelding also, and he was an iron horse. He was just the most wonderful horse and the woman that owned him was a dear friend of mine, Mrs. [Allaire] du Pont. She was a lovely woman. The whole Kelso thing was great. It was just a great experience. Even the trainer Carl Hanford. They were just very classy people.