Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stephanie Van Minos, Track Photographer


A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their
 favorite sport
 

In her first racetrack assignment at Finger Lakes in Canandaigua, N.Y., Van Minos was preparing to shoot the finish when a horse blew the far turn, bolted to the outside rail and headed for the gap leading back to the paddock. Which was precisely where Van Minos was standing, focused on the finish line and blissfully unaware of her impending peril. Fortunately her boss, Tom Cooley, saw the situation develop and yanked her aside before she got run over. “He told me, ‘That’s the first rule of this job – keep your eyes peeled, because you never know what will happen,’ ” Van Minos recalled. A similar situation happened last season at Tampa Bay Downs during a turf race when a horse jumped the outside rail and continued down the grassy path between the two courses; Cooley screamed to Van Minos to watch out, and she dove under the rail just in time. In her eight years at the racetrack, Van Minos has developed into a consummate professional, smoothing over the rough spots when a horse gets fractious in the winner’s circle and turning out quality pieces of art for winning horsemen. Van Minos, who works in tandem with fellow Tampa Bay Downs photographer John Duca, doesn’t consider herself a Thoroughbred racing authority, but has learned Tampa Bay Downs beats upstate New York in the winter.

 

 

 

HOMETOWN: Rochester, N.Y.

 

BEST HORSE I EVER WATCHED: This is a stretch, but I’d have to say Mouse, the Miniature Horse and Tampa Bay Downs mascot. She brightens my day when I see her walking around the track greeting everyone.

 

HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: I graduated with a photography degree from the University at Buffalo. A friend put me in touch with (track photographer) Tom Cooley, and I went to the track to see what it was all about. I didn’t know anything about horses – and still don’t – but I knew about photography, so I got the job.

 

MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION: Music. It’s a huge part of my life. I love reggae music and Indie rock, love going to concerts, and I’ve even started playing the ukulele!

 

ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: I think every racetrack should have a Thoroughbred adoption program right on the grounds, like they do at Finger Lakes. They do a great job of adopting out retired horses and trying to get them into new careers.

 

MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM: I’m not a big sports fan, but my dad would be disappointed if I didn’t say the Buffalo Bills. Growing up in my house, you were either a Bills fan or not allowed to live there.

 

NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST: To surf the waves in Hawaii. I’ve surfed in southern California and Cocoa Beach, which is probably my favorite spot in Florida.

 

FAVORITE MOVIES: The Goonies and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

 

FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The weather—you can’t get weather like this during the winter back home in Rochester!

 

WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … I’d be a starving artist, eating Ramen noodles. I’ve tried it before, selling still life and fine art pieces, but not enough to make a living.

 

ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Have a good portfolio, and know your camera. And try to take the picture quick. There is a lot of finger-crossing when you take pictures of horses, because you never know what you’re going to get.

 

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