Pat Healy’s passion for photography was written in the stars from the very beginning, writes Will Jennings.
Born on June 29, 1969, Healy celebrates his 51st birthday today - fittingly coinciding with National Camera Day, commemorating the art of photography on June 29 each year.
Ireland’s leading racing photographer has seen it all over the years, from Sea The Stars’ Epsom Derby triumph in 2009 to the 1997 Listowel Festival where he forever etched his name into Irish photography folklore.
It was that day in County Kerry where Healy captured his most ‘iconic’ image, spectacularly snapping nine horses falling at the first fence and seeing his stunning picture used on the front page of seven national papers the following day.
And 23 years on from that famous, famous image - in which no horse or jockey was injured - birthday boy Healy knows just how lucky he was to hit the photography jackpot.
“June 29 is actually my birthday, would you believe it?” he joked.
“I suppose it’s quite fitting that my birthday falls on National Camera Day!
“The iconic photographs that people remember are ones where people are in the right place at the right time, and I think a lot of the art of good photography sometimes comes down to luck.
“The Listowel photo is my favourite photo I’ve ever taken - it made the front page of seven newspapers on the same day, and just resonates with people as they remember it.
"Most importantly, no horse or jockey walked away hurt or injured, which has always been really important for me.
“The popularity of that Listowel picture made me very proud, and even today I love seeing my pictures in the paper.
“It gives me a kick to see that, and that’s what it’s all about. To see that Listowel picture on the front of all the daily papers will never happen to me again - that’s once in a lifetime stuff.”
Healy took his first snap back in 1979, shortly after his father, Liam Sr, founded Healy Racing Photography in his Listowel, County Kerry.
And Liam’s passion for capturing images proved infectious, as Pat begun working on point-to-point races and started a six-decade career that continues to thrive today.
Pat’s other famous images including a horse soaring high into the air at Laytown in 2014, as he followed the mount down onto the sand where he was duly rewarded with a picture that lives with him forever.
But it’s that unique picture from his local course that lives longest in the memory, as Healy was left stunned with his discovery back in the archaic days of photograph development and film.
“At the time of the photo everything was on film, so I couldn’t look at the camera and back straight away to see it,” he added.
“I had to drive to the Kerry’s I newspaper in Tralee, and I remember I developed it in chemicals, took the roll of negative out and drying it off with a hairdryer.
“I remember looking at the negative and I could see the images and just hoping they were in focus!
“But I kind of knew I had something special, and it is a special image.
“My two most iconic photos are that one from Listowel and the picture from Laytown, but that one from Listowel has to be my favourite and is the greatest image that I just love.
“The industry has changed a lot over the years in that there’s a lot more racing these days, the facilities at the courses are now top-class and the technology has developed so much.
“But photographing horse racing has always given me great satisfaction - I love horse racing, am a big admirer of jockeys and enjoy the banter and different people you meet.”
The COVID-19 pandemic means Healy missed Royal Ascot for the first time in 25 years this month, also unable to attend Saturday’s Epsom Derby owing to current restrictions.
Healy was recently appointed as chairman at Listowel Racecourse, who have previously celebrated two Irish Derby winners to clinch their maiden at the course in Alamshar and Treasure Beach in 2003 and 2011.
Healy will miss that irreplaceable buzz of a big race day this weekend, but says he’s got plenty more years ahead of him as his passion for photography burns as brightly as ever.
“I love the capturing the big days - everybody loves the Epsom Derby, it’s a unique place and a unique race, and every year I’ve gone I’ve walked the track before the race," he said.
“You get such a feeling for the history and the tradition, and I’ll miss being there this Saturday.
“They’re going to have to take me away from this job in a wooden box - I want to live until I’m 150 and I love what I do.
“That’s not going to happen but I’m going to try, and I’ll say it again - they’d have to take me out of a race track in a wooden box to make me stop doing it!”