The Downs at Albuquerque by Ellen Rennard

Issue 10

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 that glimpse of a world apart left an indelible impression. 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 horses are now cooled on mechanical hot walkers instead of being led by grooms, and the crowds have thinned, 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 The Jockey Club at The Downs.

In spite of what still remains, horseracing has declined in recent years, and many small and mid-level tracks have closed. Many insiders now view horses merely as “product,” and tracks increasingly depend on casinos to provide revenue. 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.

Ellen Rennard is a Groton, MA based artist and teacher.
To view more of Ellen's work, please visit her website.