Holly Smith was born in raised in Frankfort, Ky., and started riding horses when she was about 9 years old. For many years she was involved with American Saddlebreds and an avid 4-Her during her adolescence. She learned to take pictures at young age from her mom, and ever since, horses and photography have been a part of her life. In 2015, after American Pharoah won the Kentucky Derby, she began to frequent the track for photography purposes and the quest the become part of racing media began. If you spot Holly at the track she will probably have camera in one hand, phone in the other, and an overnight in her back pocket.
Name: Holly Smith
Birthplace: Frankfort, Ky.
My introduction to horse racing occurred when … I remember going to Keeneland when I was probably around 8 or 9 years old, right around then was when I first started riding horses and was completely horse crazy. Pat Day, Julie Krone, and Shane Sellers were in their prime and I thought they were the coolest.
Profession/what I do: I work for an e-learning company as an academic advisor Monday through Friday and my weekends are spent at the track as a freelance photographer.
Favorite part of my job: Being around horses just makes me happy, some days I spend more time doting on the horses than I do taking pictures. I also really enjoy working with clients on websites, social media, etc. to help their vision come to life through photographs.
Most challenging part of photographing racing: Weather and lighting, both things are completely out of your control and you just have to roll with whatever comes your way. I don’t love standing in the pouring rain on a sloppy track, but when I nail a frame, it makes totally worth the conditions. The fact that horse photography is almost completely out of your control and there are no do-overs, meets my thrill-seeking side.
How I spend my day at the track: When horses are here in Louisville, I will go to the track in the morning to watch works and hang out with friends, etc. Then I come back in the afternoon to watch the races. I love when Churchill is running because I can go home and be back in no time. I may also take my lunch break to go shoot a race!
Three words that define what Thoroughbred racing means to me: Hard work, passion, fun
My favorite childhood memory: The day my parents bought me my first horse and she was delivered with a big red bow. Pendleton’s Queen Bee, a 20ish year old Morgan mare.
When I was 6, I wanted to be: Jockey or veterinarian
Other sports/teams I follow: University of Kentucky Wildcats, I’m a faithful member of the BBN.
My top three favorite racetracks, in order: Churchill Downs: I consider it my home track and also happens to be the place of the greatest two minutes in sports
Keeneland: The first track I ever went to and one of the prettiest tracks I have ever seen in person
Tampa Bay Downs: I have only been there one time, but it is very nice and can’t beat the weather during the winter!
One thing about me that most people don’t know: I really like plants and wish I could have more, but my cats prefer to eat them rather than enjoy them like I do.
Favorite vacation spot: In recent years most of the PTO from my day job goes to shooting racing, so real vacations are few and far between. However, this summer I went on a cruise with my family to Key West and Cuba. Cuba was unlike any place I have been before and hope I get back there again.
My favorite athletes of all time: Pete Sampras
Most memorable experience I’ve had in racing: Watching American Pharoah train for the Triple Crown at Churchill Downs and then win the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.
A pet peeve: People who can't park properly in a parking lot
What book(s) I am reading or have recently read: “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance
Hobbies away from Thoroughbred racing: Reality TV junkie, binge watching shows on Hulu and Netflix, obsessively checking social media
Favorite food: Pizza
I’d like to have dinner with the following three people in racing: Charles Fipke, Julie Krone, Larry Collmus
I’d like to have dinner with the following three people outside of racing: Princess Kate, Bruce Springsteen, Oprah
Favorite place at the racetrack to watch a race: Impossible to pick just one place! I love being on the turn, it is so quiet most days and you can hear the horses thundering by or the jockeys yelling as they run by. For a big race like the Derby, being right on the finish line is awesome! Best view at Churchill Downs is from the announcer’s booth, especially as the sun is setting.
My philosophy on life: Life’s short so just do the damn thing.
Should the Breeders’ Cup rotate from coast to coast or have a permanent home: Rotate, I think moving around from coast to coast allows different groups of people to attend plus different track conditions might play better for certain horses year to year.
Favorite quote or motto: “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” ―Winston Churchill
Things I collect: Derby glasses, media credentials, Tervis cups
No. 1 bucket list item: Shoot all three Triple Crown races in one year.
Favorite international racing event and why: Queen’s Plate at Woodbine; the only international track/event I’ve attended and I had a blast.
What apps are on your phone: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, Today’s Racing, Dropbox, Photogrid, Kentucky Sports Radio app, Yahoo Fantasy Sports, Keeneland and Churchill Downs, Google Inbox, Amazon
Favorite month of the year: September
Biggest gambling score at the racetrack ever: I rarely place bets, I’m not sure I have even won $20 on a ticket before. I like to bet big events like Derby or Breeders’ Cup and I only bet if I can actually go to the window.
What is your go-to or signature bet to make at the racetrack: $2 to place
Favorite musician/band: Bruce Springsteen, but I love music and going to concerts
Country you’ve never been to but desire to visit: Ireland