Legendary equine photographer Tony Leonard’s complete collection of prints and negatives has been acquired by two Thoroughbred industry veterans and one businessman, who have satisfied Leonard’s wish that his lifetime work be maintained and kept together in a single collection.
John Adger, Bobby Shiflet, and David Sorrell purchased Leonard’s works in a deal that was approved by the court overseeing the conservatorship of Leonard’s assets and was finalized in June. Adger, of Houston, Texas, is a Thoroughbred owner and breeder and was the bloodstock and racing manager for Robert and Janice McNair’s Stonerside Stable. Sorrell, of Lexington, Ky., served as vice president and controller at Stonerside and is now finance manager of Darley, which bought Stonerside from the McNairs four years ago. Shiflet owns Frames on Main Gallery, an art gallery and custom frame shop in Paris, Ky., and worked extensively with Leonard during the photographer’s career.
Leonard was the most widely known chronicler of racehorse images in the second half of the 20th century. A one-time nightclub singer who also performed on Broadway, Leonard turned to shooting horses as a hobby. He became known after shooting a series of photos of Ribot in his paddock at Darby Dan Farm, and eventually became the king of the conformation shot, allowing stud farms to highlight their stallions in the best possible light.
But Leonard also excelled with his work at the racetrack. His photo of a Keeneland field of runners racing through a snowstorm earned him an Eclipse Award. Leonard also will be forever linked with the great Triple Crown winner Secretariat, whom he photographed both at the track and during Big Red’s stud career at Claiborne Farm. Leonard’s work also includes coverage of the two Triple Crown winners who succeeded Secretariat—Seattle Slew and Affirmed.
Leonard often pointed his lens at celebrities attending the races as well. His collection includes shots of luminaries such as Queen Elizabeth II, baseball star Joe DiMaggio, and former President Richard Nixon.
In a statement, Adger, Shiflet, and Sorrell said, “We are admirers and friends of Tony Leonard, and our goal is to maintain Mr. Leonard’s legacy while preserving his historically significant photographs that cover a span of more than 45 years of Thoroughbred history.”
They added that they intend to publish items from the collection on a limited basis in yet-to-be determined projects. Terms of the acquisition will not be made public.