Saturday, July 5, 2014

Santa Anita Morning Rhapsody

Karen S. Davis is an award winning author, photographer, journalist, musician, actor, and much more! A world traveler, Karen’s favorite spot is at the racetrack – with the horses! An exciting interview with one of the world’s top equine photographers…
Welcome Karen!

Photographing at Santa Anita must have been amazing. What spurred the idea for 'Santa Anita MorningRhapsody'?
Many years ago, while working in a stressful, thankless office job, I began to suffer chest pain. The diagnosis foretold my imminent death. I asked myself what I would do if tomorrow were my last day on earth. The next morning, well before sunrise, I stood at the rail at Santa Anita race course watching the horses, my first love. As I listened to them thunder down the track in the darkness, and as the sun rose over the San Gabriel Mountains, I decided to return every morning until I dropped dead right there! Before long, thoroughbred riders and trainers were greeting me, and one day a trainer asked if I'd like to "learn the business." I had nothing to lose! I became his assistant and gained admittance to the behind-the-scenes world of the racetrack. I quite naturally took photographs (another passion), and my desire to share them prompted the idea of making a book to celebrate this wondrous place and the beauty of the horse. (Incidentally, the doctors were wrong. But I vowed never to take another soulless job and never have.)

What is your favorite photo from your book?
I love them all, but I'm particularly fond of my Loose Racehorse. This horse had tossed its rider and was running straight at me. If I didn't get the shot, I wouldn't get another chance. I loved photographing loose horses. The situation is fraught with danger, but it reminds me how horses are meant to be—free. When I decided to include Shakespeare's equine prose in the book, this photo leapt out at me as the perfect one to use at the beginning with my favorite quote from Henry V: "Wonder of nature…he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it."

Who is your favorite racehorse? Jockey?
Secretariat, without a doubt. Remembering the Belmont in 1973, when he won by 31 thrilling and unbelievable lengths to get the Triple Crown, still brings tears to my eyes. He was single-hoofedly [sic] responsible for my falling in love with thoroughbreds. The jockey I like and admire most is Eddie Delahoussaye, a wonderful human being. I enjoyed watching him bring many a horse to victory in the stretch from last place, all with the touch of his hands. There was no one I wanted more to write the preface to my book, and he agreed to do it!

Are racetracks as intriguing on the inside as on the outside? 
As intriguing as the people who work and live there. I spent every single morning there for almost three years and found each day so entertaining that the screenplay I wrote [also called Santa Anita Morning Rhapsody] practically wrote itself—I just kept my ears open and listened to the dialogue around me. Racetrack people certainly have their own world. I laid out the photos in my book to give people a glimpse of that. The back side [the stable area] itself is like a little town. They used to tell me that the fences were there to keep us in, not to keep other people out! After training in the mornings, a group of us routinely went to breakfast, often joined by visiting veteran jockeys and trainers. Seated around the table were hundreds of years of horse experience, and as many stories. One of my favorites was about a bug boy [apprentice jockey] looking forward to riding in his first race. He was so excited he invited his whole family up from Mexico. The horses were loaded into the starting gate, the bell rang, the doors flew open—and the poor boy's mount stood stock-still while the others galloped down the track. Another tale was about  a trainer towing his horse in a trailer on the interstate from L.A. to Del Mar. He glanced in his side-view mirror and saw his horse chasing him down the freeway. (They made it to Del Mar, safe and sound.)

Do you have an anecdote from Santa Anita that you'd like to share?
The whole racetrack was an anecdote, as you can see from my previous answer! Every day something happened that was an absolute gift, because for me being there was like a childhood dream come true. One of my most enjoyable mornings was spent at Del Mar (the Southern California racing circuit consisted of Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar…I went to all three). A group of seniors were on an organized outing, sitting in the grandstand when I walked by with my stopwatch after clocking my horse's workout. They asked me if I'd speak to them and I spent half an hour answering their questions and giving them the inside scoop on racing and training. I liked to share all the fun I was having with other people! I once proposed to Santa Anita using me as such an ambassador, given that racing needs a boost in the U.S. I actually gave such talks every time I did a book signing. The track didn't take me up on my offer (I think they believe slot machines are the answer to increasing attendance), but to me the horse is the essence of racing, what makes it unique and appealing. I'm still game to fill this role if they change their minds!

A photographer, journalist, musician! Which is your favorite creative outlet?
It's impossible to prefer one over another. Every endeavor is as thrilling and fulfilling as the next—traveling and photographing the world, singing at Carnegie Hall, following my inspiration to write music. I've always believed in enjoying every talent I was lucky enough to be born with.  

What's the key to capturing the perfect photograph?
Hand me the camera! :-)  For me it's patience and passion. I never studied. An international photographer once told me I was born with the skills that others have to be taught … that I do everything right naturally, "by the seat of my pants." Perhaps that's what's meant by having a gift.

Where is your favorite place in the world?
Italy. All of it! I feel at home there. I love the people, music, language, food, art, architecture, landscape, cities, villages, history. I'm lucky enough to have family in Campania whose lives I'm privileged to be a part of. I think they're the most wonderful people in the world. The family casa is my favorite place!

What are you currently creating?
I hope to put more and more time into composing classical music, while continuing to photograph when opportunities arise.
List 5 things your fans may not know about you:
1. My (late) husband and I were married in the Lavanttaler Alps in Austria.

2. After being a VIP guest at John Glenn's 1998 Space Shuttle launch (along with most living astronauts), I had a private tour (just me!) inside Space Shuttle Columbia at Kennedy Space Center. My guide had worked on every spacecraft since project Mercury and gave me the commander's seat to power up.
3. I used to fly single-engine airplanes out of Burbank (Bob Hope) international airport.

4. As a volunteer for Comic Relief USA, I delivered Christmas gift boxes in my pickup truck (ho! ho! ho!) to the homes of all the stars on our HBO TV shows. Louis Nye's wife invited me in to see his scrapbooks.
5. Luciano Pavarotti kissed me backstage after a recital at the Royal Opera House in London. 

Connect with Karen…
Official website:

CD Baby:    
Book on amazon:



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