Tony Leonard, a legendary equine photographer who chronicled the golden age of horse racing, died July 14 at Homestead Nursing Home in Lexington. He was 89.
Mr. Leonard was known the photos he took of many racing greats, both Thoroughbred and Standardbred. He was a regular on Kentucky Futurity day at The Red Mile and captured iconic photos, including one of Mack Lobell and Napoletano stride-for-stride, both with all four feet off the ground.
In addition to his racing photography, Mr. Leonard was known as the dean of the stallion conformation shot. He took photos of many Standardbred stallions and was also called upon for yearling conformation shots.
Born Leonard Anthony Bergantino on Aug. 8, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Leonard served in the Army during World War II and became a professional entertainer after the war, performing first in nightclubs across the country and eventually on Broadway. He took up the stage name of Tony Leonard at the suggestion of Bob Hope's manager and came to Kentucky in 1961 with his wife Adelle to perform at the old La Flame nightclub on Winchester Road.
Mr. Leonard began taking photos as a hobby. According to The Blood-Horse, he first made his name in racing when he went to Darby Dan Farm in Lexington and photographed the great Ribot in his paddock. Several of the photos appeared as part of a feature in the Morning Telegraph and Leonard was on his way to a career as a Thoroughbred photographer.
In 2009, Leonard and his wife were made wards of the state due to deteriorating medical and financial conditions. In May 2010 the photographer and his wife, along with relatives, won a court battle to end the state's control of Leonard's collection of negatives of his photos. The couple moved to Homestead Nursing Center last summer after Adelle had a medical setback that resulted in her being moved from an assisted living environment; Leonard told the Lexington Herald-Leader he wanted to stay with her.
Leonard is survived by Adelle (nee' Herzog); by his sister, Mary Lou Horn, and her husband, Richard, and by many nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews. He will long be remembered by his legion of friends, fans and admirers.