Behind the Scenes with Neil Latham

Neil Latham photographs Zenyatta at Lane's End Farm.

Neil Latham photographs Zenyatta at Lane’s End Farm.

Zenyatta Captures Thoroughbred Essence, Says Photographer Neil Latham

For fine art photographer Neil Latham, his mum was the most powerful and soulful woman he had ever encountered, so when he noticed similar qualities among grazing horses in upstate New York while grieving his mum’s passing, he did what came naturally: he took a few photographs.

The shots captivated Latham – there was strength yet fragility, athletic supremacy with graceful movement, determination yet peaceful confidence. He sensed his mother’s presence. He was struck by a compulsion to capture the essence and mystique of the Thoroughbred on film, honoring these magnificent animals and his mother at the same time.

Yet over thousands of miles, 100-plus horses, 6,000 images, and countless equipment trials and set rotations, it wasn’t until Latham met Zenyatta that the original objective crystalized for him.

Neil Latham photographs Zenyatta at Lane's End Farm.

Neil Latham photographs Zenyatta at Lane’s End Farm.

The Challenge of Essence
In order to reveal the profound, transcendent element he sensed beneath the surface of these complex animals, Latham fine-tuned his artistic vision, resolved technical issues and sorted logistics. He convinced horse owners and trainers to let him photograph their multi-million-dollar racehorses, and crisscrossed the country loaded with equipment. He slept in the groom dorms at Saratoga Race Course and camped in a tent at Kentucky Horse Park. “I had to live it and wait for the special moments,” he says.

To achieve absolute perfection, Latham experimented with photographic equipment, light, exposure and large-scale sets. He built a portable studio with a black backdrop 20 feet tall and 36 feet wide that had to be rotated every 15 minutes to maintain the perfect angle to the sun. He also shot stampeding horses to capture intrinsic wildness, with the swirling dust giving a magical element.

In the process, Latham visited storied horse farms including Lane’s End, Gainesway, Stonestreet, Coolmore, Spendthrift, Ramsey, and Adena Springs. He photographed Thoroughbred legends such as A.P. Indy, Curlin, Tapit, Rachel Alexandra, Ghostzapper and American Pharoah. Black-and-white images revealed isolated musculature after a good breezing, architectural lines and curves, frenzied running, and more as he pushed the artistic limits of the subject matter. Some images nearly resemble equine versions of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs.

Behind the scenes at Zenyatta's photo shoot.

Behind the scenes at Zenyatta’s photo shoot.

Neil Latham photographs Zenyatta at Lane's End Farm.

Neil Latham photographs Zenyatta at Lane’s End Farm.

And Then There Was Zenyatta
Latham and his assistant were shooting in California when approval came in to photograph Zenyatta. Excited, they drove for 34 hours straight, swapping driving and sleeping, arriving at Lane’s End Farm just four hours before the start of the scheduled session.

“By that time I had shot more than 6,000 images of the best Thoroughbreds in the country, yet she was the most glorious creature I had ever seen,” says Latham. “She was nearly posing…she seemed to know her best position. She loved to be photographed and looked right at the lens. She was so alluring. I was fully aware that what I had in front of me was an iconic animal – a horse with soul. I felt a tremendous amount of joy photographing her and didn’t want to stop.”

Latham with Zenyatta

Latham with Zenyatta

When Latham asked a handler to take a photo of him with Zenyatta at the end of the session, something quite unexpected and extraordinary happened. “She tucked her head under my arm and just stayed there. A Thoroughbred would never do this. Then she tilted her head and looked straight at me. It was like she was talking to me through her eyes. I knew she understood people and felt emotion, and it seemed like she was in touch with my inner thoughts and feelings. This was a revelation…she connected with me on a different level. And I felt something I had never felt before with a horse,” he says.

As the moment ended, Latham knew it was the end of the journey, too. He had captured the essence of the Thoroughbred.

“All of my photos portrayed the power and dominance of the breed, but it wasn’t until Zenyatta that I was able to reveal the emotional, fragile side,” says Latham. “It was the missing piece. I felt the finality, and then a wave of sadness. I never wanted it to be over; it’s hard to stop an obsession. But it seemed like there was nothing else to say – it had all been said with Zenyatta.”

Neil Latham photographs Zenyatta at Lane's End Farm.

Neil Latham photographs Zenyatta at Lane’s End Farm.

Zenyatta Forever
Latham’s iconic portrait of Zenyatta is currently featured in an exhibition, “Neil Latham: American Thoroughbred,” at Steven Kasher Gallery in New York City through July 30. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Address: 515 W. 26th St. in Chelsea.

Limited edition prints are available in a few sizes ranging up to 50 x 60 inches for maximum impact. They are numbered, finished on archival paper with museum framing, and signed by the artist.

Zenyatta is also a highlight of the limited edition fine art coffee table book “American Thoroughbred” by Neil Latham published by Twin Palms. It features 182 pages with 80 duotones, and is casebound and slipcased for quality presentation. It retails for $95 and is available from the publisher at or from Amazon (ISBN: 978-1-936611-12-6). It can also be purchased at the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York through the end of July.

American Thoroughbred has developed quite a following on Instagram, see @neil_american_thoroughbred. The photographer’s website is


  1. For Glesni and Tegid life goes on.They are busy eating on the nest next to their daughter/sister.The Dyfi have no plans to move the body yet for fear of disturbing Tegid.Emyr has written the most wonderful tribute to Ceri.The tears are flowing.Sheena

  2. Great article on Songbird’s pedigree!
    A Song in an Everlasting Garden
    By Robert D. Fierro The Blood-Horse Pedigree Weekly July 21 2016
    Nearly two years ago a yearling filly by Medaglia d’Oro carrying #28 on her hip was getting a great deal of action at the Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency consignment on the sale grounds at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga. We thought she was an exceptional beauty, and her overall balance prompted us to analyze her biomechanically.

    1. Dear BGG:

      Thank you for this link on beautiful Songbird. Love and Hugs, JB

    2. Dear BGG,
      Thank you for linking this very interesting article. Hope for a beautiful day for you and everyone here on Zenny’s site. with love, Elizabeth

  3. Dear BGG,

    Thanks for this article. Songbird is really exceptional indeed!
    Continued good luck to her, and may she stay safe and sound.

    Hugs and Love

  4. Dear Judy.Goodnight God bless you LM PC HT Cap Frank Hercules Bentley and all the sweeties,Love and hugs SheenaX

    1. Dear Sheena:

      Goodnight. Love and Hugs, JB, LM, PC, HT, Cap, Herc, Frank, Bentley and all the Sweeties

  5. Neil Latham’s experience with Zenyatta struck a cord with us. We met and visited with Zenyatta early and often during her racing career. Through her eyes, we were able to communicate and connect with her like no other horse before or since. She is an ethereal being.
    When we asked our good friend, Don, to join us for visits, he told us that Zenyatta had affected him like no other animal had. To understand how meaningful that was, one has to know a little about Don’s career as an anthropologist, primatologist whose career spanned Professor as U C Davis and UCLA before being asked to head the exotic animal breeding program at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. He was responsible for breeding the giant panda, cheetah, macaque and other exotic breeds.

    Don had the opportunity to visit Zenyatta again in January. You can readily see his connection with Zenyatta through the photos posted on this website in February.

  6. It was a pleasure to read this comment.

  7. Dear Mama Z, COZ, ZI and DC:

    Goodnight. Have a peaceful, restful night. Happy Dreams. Love you. Hugs, JB

    Z Princess, Dubai, Baby Z, will always love you.

  8. Mr. Latham your article on Zenyatta gave me chills. Having the soul connection with Zenyatta is one of the greatest experiences a person can have ,I consider it a gift from God. I also had this experience with her so I understand. I was also moved by the entry from “the Kennedys “. God bless the Queen and everyone that keeps her happy and gives her love. Xoxoxo

    1. Dear Donna, your reaction to the work, makes me stop and pause… I am touched by your comments, thank you for the kind words. Best Wishes, Neil.

  9. Like all the British Hovis is complaining about the heat.He has avoided a lot of stressage though.A lovely French lady is joining the family to care for mini-mother.Why am I surrounded by so many women?What have I done?Poor boy.Safe trips to all horses and jockeys this weekend.Sheena

    1. Dear Sheena,

      Thanks for Hovis! One good outcome from the heat is Hovis hasn’t had to work quite as hard. Good luck with the French lady! Happy weekend everybody. Safe trips for all horses and jockeys.

  10. A very Happy Birthday to our delightful Prince George who turns 3 today.He is sure to have fun with mummy,daddy and Charlotte.Love SheenaX

    1. A very HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Prince George! 3 years of cuteness and many more wonderful birthdays to come. Have a lovely, smashing good time today!

      Thanks for keeping us “in the know”, Sheena.
      Hugs and Love

  11. Happy Birthday to the little Prince George. Think he can be a bundle of mischief!

  12. July 22 Cherokee Devotional

    We are told that if we obey we will eat the good of the land. Can you imagine what that means? Everything for our benefit comes from the land: food, precious minerals,and every kind of plant that serves as medicine. Why would we want anything artificial when we can have the real thing! The Cherokee believes that just sitting on the earth or standing barefoot on it gives balance. The earth is not dead nor does it lack any good thing.
    Obey and eat. Obey and be well. Obey and be happy. Obey and breathe easily and joyfully. Accept the gifts the earth offers. Obey and live!

    Our God gives us…the corn and all things to sustain life.

  13. Dear Kathy.A lovely day here It has certainly cooled down.Poor Hovis surrounded by all those females and a 2ft granny!Some good news from Delyth and Dylan’s nest their 3 chicks have been ringed and DNA swabs taken.Glesni and Teg were on the nest.I have no idea whether she was calling for Ceri or more food .There have some negative comments on their FB more especially from Americans I thought world war III was going to break out!I never got involved believing every’s opinion should be respected.Ceri’s body remains on the nest.I really cried reading Emyr’s blog last night.I have only got to known these birds since 20II but they have become a huge part of my spring/summer.
    I have sent you Prince George’s birthday photos.My,he has grown.Larry had to visit the vet when he was spotted limping outside no 10 he saidyou should have seen the state of the other guy.Palmerston no doubt!The entante was not so cordiale yesterday mother Theresa should have reminded him of a few battles we won such as Waterloo,Agincourt and Crecy!
    Zoe had a great visit with Mr George and they both Chicago Cubs fans and she even got Banilla ice cream.Mio has all the residoo to himself while Wimbley is in space and Mr Fibbs is preparing for his conbenshun.Boo and Buddy are in NY and hadn’t been warned about the humidity on the East Coast.I am getting concerned again about Fubu no word lately.Bob and James have made it to 1/2 a million.No more than they deserve.Pippa is out every day showing off her ring.Upon her future father-in-law’s death she will become Lady Glen Affric he has a 10,000 acre estate in Scotland!Money talks.Have a great Friday.Love and hugs to you,Kisses for Angel Holly,Nikko and Sugar.SheenaXOXO

  14. Dear Sheena,

    I’m so glad it’s cooler there now! Yes, Poor Hovis has way too many women to deal with. Good to hear there’s good news from Delyth and Dylan. Feeling so heartbroken over the loss of Ceri. We have to move on, though. Something tells me Glesni was calling for Ceri. Wow, I wonder when they will remove Ceri. Poor little thing. I can understand how the ospreys are a huge part of our spring/summer. Yes, I’ve viewed the pics of Prince George. He is very adorable and has grown so fast. My favorite pic is where he’s feeding Lupo ice cream. I mentioned on the post that it reminds me of Zoe and her Banilla ice cream. I hope Larry will be okay. The state of the other guy…that’s so funny! That’s too bad Mother Theresa’s visit wasn’t as cordial yesterday. Maybe he took offense at the hairstyle advice! Zoe’s visit with Mr. George made me smile. I’m glad she enjoyed some homemade Banilla ice cream, too! Milo seemed to be enjoying all the residoo. Sometimes it’s nice to not have to share! I’m glad Boo and Buddy are being pampered in the hotel. Yes, it’s always a worry when there is no word form Kimberly and Fubu. You always fear that it’s something really bad. Congratulations, Bob and James! Good for Pippa. Seems like her future is secure! I wish you a good Friday. I’m off today but will be working tomorrow, alas. Love and hugs from me, kisses from Angel Holly, Nikko and Sugar. Kathy XOXO

  15. Racing’s ladies’ man, Smith enjoying ride with Songbird
    By David Grening Daily Racing Form 07/21/2016
    SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Mike Smith has ridden some of the best female horses of all time – four, in fact, who are in the Hall of Fame, including Zenyatta, whose induction takes place in less than three weeks.

    1. Dear BGG,

      This is a great article! I love reading about these fillies in Mike Smith’s own words. He is such a mensch — a really good guy and a class act. Thanks for posting the link.

      Hope Mike and Songbird have a fabulous season.

      Safe racing to all!

      Hugs and Love

    2. Dear BGG,
      Wonderful article. Love Songbird and hope she wins. Love how Mike almost always (maybe ‘always’) mentions Zenyatta in discussions of greatest horses. Hope you and everyone here on Zenny’s site have a great Saturday. with love, Elizabeth

  16. Another on going terrorist attack in Munich several deaths at a shopping mall and an an attack at a railway station.It is always the innocent who suffer yet another Friday night with breaking news.RIP Sheena

  17. Finally got the chance to see Neil Latham’s gorgeous photos at the Steven Kasher Gallery in Manhattan. The prints are huge and seeing them in person is well worth the trip for anyone who can make it. Their size and quality are truly astonishing (not to mention the subjects, of course). The viewing was even more profound knowing that Latham was inspired by his late mother…. especially the photos of fillies and The One And Only Mare, Queen Zenny.

    1. Dear Dee,

      I am so happy that you got to see the exhibition at the Steven Kasher Gallery. How wonderful to experience these photos “up close and personal”. I know that it must have been awe-inspiring and deeply moving.

      Thanks for giving us your descriptions!

      Hugs and Love

    2. Dear Dee,
      What a wonderful treat to be able to see the Latham photos! Thanks so much for posting about your experience. Hope you have a wonderful weekend. with love, Elizabeth

  18. Long ago and far away, there were two great fillies….

    New from THE VAULT. Enjoy!

    1. Dear Abigail.Thoroughly enjoyed this article.As we are celebrating 350years of racing at Newmarket.I noticed how you referred to the sport being relatively new in North America in the 20’s!!I loved the photo of Sir Ivor.I always felt he was the best of Piggott’s Derby winners with my father loving Nijinsky.We used to “enjoy”many a heated discussion!Thanks for sharing.Looking forward to Frankel’s babies tomorrow.Hugs Sheena

    2. Dear Abigail,

      Once again you have given us a fascinating article! You brought these two fillies to life again. Your finding the photos of Mother Goose and Alcibiades was simply “meant to be”.
      Fate intended that you write about these wonderful horses.

      Thank you so much for introducing us to them and giving us a sense of being connected to them and their historical importance. Brava, Mother Goose and Alcibiades — I am so pleased to meet both of you and am grateful that you were here.

      Hugs and Love

  19. Dear Mr. Latham:

    Thank you for your touching article on Zenyatta after you photographed her. There is indeed something mystical about her presence that is hard to explain. I had an unforgettable experience with her too. I was blessed to visit her on a beautiful quiet afternoon. There was only one other visitor. She had just retired. When I walked close to her – she gave me that kind look in her eyes telling me it’s alright to touch her. I will never forget that visit for the rest of my life. She made me feel welcome and very happy.

    Thanks Mr. Latham for your kind words about Zenyatta.


    1. Dear Marilu,

      Thank you for your thoughtful and very kind words. I have had the most incredible privilege of photographing the most iconic thoroughbreds living. I can say without pause, Zenyatta is of a different world, an incredible being… truly a gift.

      My deepest thanks go to the Moss family for their support of the work, it would not be what it is without their kindness.

      Warm wishes, Neil.

      1. Mr. Latham,

        Your photographs of Zenyatta are truly amazing. Reading this article about your experience with her and her connections is wonderful. I had the privilege of meeting Ann and Jerry Moss, John Shireffs and Dottie, Kyle Acebo and Tyler Matson yesterday at Zenyatta’s induction ceremony into The Racing Hall of Fame. They are truly all wonderful, kind people who care so much about Zenyatta and her fans. I can only imagine how amazing it must have been for you to meet Zenyatta. Thank you so much for your work.

  20. Dear Mr. Latham,

    I so enjoyed reading about your encounter with Zenyatta. I have found, over the years, that there are some animals who truly touch you in a way that is difficult to convey or understand. I have had that connection with several dogs that I owned, and it is truly magical. I believe Zennyatta wanted to convey to you her intuitive understanding and affection for people. I’m so glad she let you feel that. Your work is beautiful. Thank you!

    Joyce Daugherty

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