McCann reflects on 'perfect' Bellewstown photograph and 'privileged' career

Patrick McCann has enjoyed a journey to savour with a camera in hand - but there's one image that stands out from the rest

Friday, September 11, 2020

Bel Sas romped to glory at Bellewstown in 2016 - but the race is better remembered for McCann's stunning piece of camera work

Every picture tells a story and Patrick McCann hit the jackpot when discovering a pot of gold at Bellewstown in 2016, writes Will Jennings.

One of Ireland’s most renowned racing photographers through his work at the Racing Post, McCann honed his craft with his father, Frank, back home in Coventry before crossing the Irish Sea in 2010 as a fresh-faced 23-year-old.

And from there he’s embarked on a memorable career with a camera in hand, telling the stories from Ballydoyle to Ballinrobe, Closutton to the Curragh and Listowel to Leopardstown.

It’s been a storied journey for McCann but one picture sends his pulses racing more than any other, that iconic image of Bel Sas leaping over a Bellewstown hurdle four years ago.

McCann knows the ingredients for a perfect photo are a cocktail of preparation and fortune - and is acutely aware he struck gold with a stunning piece of camera work on that day in County Meath.

“It was on the second day of their July festival and it was just a quiet festival meeting,” said McCann, 34.

“Bel Sas was an odds-on favourite and just had to jump round to win it, and I wanted to get a good shot of him.

“This rainbow appeared and it was just perfect - it spanned wing to wing of the hurdle, you couldn’t plan for it and it’s one of those pictures where you just go: ‘I wouldn’t change anything about it’.

“As soon as I saw that rainbow appear I was just hoping I could get this perfect photo lined up. Bel Sas was perfectly in the centre of the frame and it was just one of those pictures that you wouldn’t change anything about.

“The 2016 European Championships were on at the time - I put it up on Twitter and it got great reaction from my colleagues, so not just from the public.

“You’re just trying to tell the story of that race on that day, with photos that have longevity and will make people remember them.

“A lot of thought goes into it but then this X-factor of luck comes into it - if something appears, it is kind of a balance between luck and preparation. 

"You do have to plan every race, whether that’s the Derby or any race - you have to think ‘what is the picture of this race going to be?’”

McCann has been there and shot it all over the years but it’s that image from Bellewstown that sits at the summit, having also brushed shoulders with Willie Mullins and Aidan O’Brien across a decade on Irish soil.

It’s the behind the scenes access that McCann knows is special, as trips to Irish Champions Weekend and the Irish Derby are accompanied by VIP treatment at Closutton, Cullentra and Ballydoyle.

He never forgets his roots, however, still following his beloved Coventry City FC after growing up in the city alongside his father, and fellow photographer, Frank.

It was Frank’s influence that first got the photography fires burning - and the Westmeath-based Patrick revels in indulging in a spot of nostalgia.

“I was never pushed into photography - I fell into it through my Dad and always loved being at the races,” he added.

“I got interested in the photography side, started to help my dad do more and more jobs and eventually thought ‘I could get the hang of this’.

“It was being around him, and being at the races, that drew me into the photography - it came together, and then I came over to Ireland in 2010.

“I just fell in love with the place - when you get asked if you want to live in Ireland, go into all the top yards behind the scenes and go to all the top racing and have that access, it was a no-brainer for me.



“I have so many great memories - if you love horse racing and photography, going on trips to Ballydoyle, seeing Willie Mullins’ battalions on the morning and you’re the only one there with Willie, it’s just a privilege, isn’t it?”

McCann lives and breathes his profession, a career that has taken him to all corners of the country and allows him a unique insight into all things Irish racing on a day-to-day basis.

And that sense of privilege is not lost on McCann, whose quality, polished images continue to cut through the white noise of social media timelines and camera phones.

What does the future hold? The photography industry is continually evolving but McCann knows an appetite for premium, bespoke racing images will forever endure.

“Good photography is valued and will always be valued,” he said.

“There’s no set way into the industry. If you ask Pat Healy and myself, we’ll both say that and that you have to find a bit of luck.

“I think a good picture will always be valued and there’ll always be a need - as long as that remains I think there’ll be racing photographers.

“I love it and want to carry on for as long as I can - in your head you’ve got this book of pictures you want to take, and you’re just waiting for the right conditions at the right track.

“But as long as there’s room for me in Ireland to do it, I’d love to stay here forever!”

This rainbow appeared and it was just perfect - it spanned wing to wing of the hurdle, you couldn’t plan for it and it’s one of those pictures where you just go: ‘I wouldn’t change anything about it’.
- Patrick McCann

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