Authentic pulls ahead of Tiz the Law in the 146th Kentucky Derby.

John Stephen Hockensmith has photographed some 26 Kentucky Derbies, but this one was different.

With no fans in the stands or infield and the number of media outlets limited, it was more quiet than normal.

But one thing remained the same, Hockensmith said.

“It was still the Kentucky Derby,” said the well-known photographer. “It was austere with the empty seats, but it’s still the Derby. When you hear ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ the hairs on your neck start to tingle, and when those horses come charging at you, it’s pretty special.”

Each year, Churchill Downs provides each Kentucky Derby participant with a special photograph memento provided by Hockensmith. 

“I’ve been fortunate to develop a special relationship,” the photographer said about the opportunity to share his photos with the best-known trainers and throughbred owners in the industry.

Hockensmith’s first Derby was in 1994. He procrastinated in 1995 and did not request credentials in time, “so I watched the Derby from a helicopter, but I learned my lesson.” This year makes his 25th consecutive Derby, and now he is a fixture at the annual race.

While he enjoys working at the Derby, Hockensmith said he has returned to his roots and has begun photographing nature. 

Starting Sept. 11 through Nov. 15, Hockensmith’s work will be featured alongside such noted photographers as the late James Archambeault of Scott County, Linda Bruckheimer and Deidre Lyons in an exhibit at Headley-Whitney Museum.

“There are some heavy hitters,” he said of his fellow photographers.

The exhibit is entitled, “Indelible” and Hockensmith calls his photos in the exhibit, “Back to Creation.” 

“As an unknown comet mysteriously appears, celestial chimes welcome in an era unfolding. Let the divine spark kindle our hearts and minds as we lift our hands and free our imaginations to soar like the doves between here and there. With feet of clay, our head in the heavens give us the wisp of time that ignites the desire to find the way that leads Back to Creation,” states an introduction to his exhibit.

In addition to Archambeault’s artistic legacy, Bruckheimer’s features her Americana vision and Lyons is a world of African cats.

The exhibit will be held Sept. 11- Nov. 15 at the Headley-Whitney Museum, 4435 Old Frankfort Pike in Lexington.


Mike Scogin can be reached at

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