“One of racing’s most vivid characters”
It’s true that Tony had two personalities – the engaging storyteller with the kind of smile whose face would glow when he was given a compliment over a piece of work, and the other Tony – who could exasperate the most patient of clients as he barked orders and slung curse words while a wide-eyed groom held a stallion or a yearling he was trying to get into the perfect pose for a conformation photo. Just when everyone was about to throw their hands in the air and give up, there would come that split second when the horse’s ears were perked, his feet in perfect balance, his head turned just so, and the wind was still enough to leave the mane and tail alone – and Tony would capture it, and back would come the affable personality, the smile, the charm. Tony would be satisfied that he caught that moment. His goal was that moment; he lived for that, and more often then not, clients would have to remind him numerous times to send an invoice.
“He was a perfectionist”
Tony shot his last Kentucky Derby in 2006, his last Breeders’ Cup in 2010, and made his last visit to Claiborne Farm in May of 2012. Time caught up with Tony on July 14th, 2012, some three weeks shy of his ninetieth birthday. He wanted to see the catalog of his work kept together, preserved, and shared, not so much for his own pride as an artist, but more for his love of the horse, and his recognition of the good luck he’d had in being there to photograph so many of the sport’s icons.
"He was a perfectionist. He worked so hard to make sure your horse was shown off to its very best. There is an art to that and an artist’s eye involved." -
"When Tony Leonard died in 2012, we lost perhaps the greatest horse photographer of all time… and one of racing’s most vivid characters. For many years, Tony took the Dogwood yearling and two-year-old conformation photos. The results were flattering, meticulously done photos, accomplished even with the utter exhaustion of every human and animal connected with the project. The first year, I sat in on the session, peering over Tony’s shoulder and biting my lip to keep from screaming, “Shoot for God’s sake,” when the animal seemed to be positioned perfectly. But it wasn’t perfect in Tony’s eye, and by God, he wasn’t going to shoot until it was. From then on, I arranged to be busy with other matters when Tony came. Tony never took a shortcut when it came to his craft. He was quite irascible and certainly did not suffer fools (or anyone else) gladly. He bellowed, cursed, and stomped the earth if the wind blew a tail, a fly landed on the subject’s rump, or he ran out of film when the big moment came.When he was satisfied, he would dismiss the horse in soft tones and direct a vague, angelic smile toward its handler. His mood changed like the summer lightning. I sure liked Tony, but he was not what you would call a soothing companion. Tony Leonard was literally an entertainer. He was dramatic. He had sung in nightclubs, on Broadway, at Radio City Music Hall, Yankee Stadium, and Cincinnati’s Crosley Field. He would render the National Anthem at the slightest provocation. Indeed, if the tension increased to a critical degree at the photo shoot, he might clear the air by rearing back and rendering “Old Man River” while a bewildered yearling regarded him curiously. He was an artist, and he had the temperament of an artist. He was simply eccentric as hell. Business matters were unappealing to Tony. He might not send you a bill for several years. He might not show up exactly when you expected him. In his long heyday, the big races would have been incomplete without Tony scurrying on the stretch to prepare for his next shot. And, of course, Secretariat set his soul on fire! He was treated with both enormous respect and wariness by his fellow photographers, just as he should have been."
-W. Cothran Campbell