Gerald Frutkoff, 81, photographed Maryland horse racing for 55 years


Gerald "Jerry" Frutkoff, an award-winning Maryland horse racing photographer who chronicled the running of the Preakness Stakes for 55 years, died Friday of cancer and kidney disease at the Joseph Richey Hospice in Baltimore. The Mount Airy resident was 81.

Mr. Frutkoff's pictures graced the pages of Life, The Saturday Evening Post and Sports Illustrated. For parts of seven decades, he prowled the tracks at Pimlico, Laurel Park and Bowie, camera in hand, capturing the essence of the sport -- from starting gate spills to spectacular stretch runs.

The winner's circle was his touchstone. There, after every race, Mr. Frutkoff photographed the victorious horse, jockey, trainer and owner, a practice he repeated untold times.

"I must have walked about 2 billion miles, which keeps you fairly fit and is good for the heart," he told The Sun in 1998. "And I've taken at least that many pictures. I don't want to guess that number."

Despite his illness, Mr. Frutkoff worked until he was hospitalized in June. Horsemen praised his grit, humor and high standards. Laurel Race Course observed a moment of silence Saturday for Mr. Frutkoff before the first race.

"Jerry was truly an institution in Maryland racing and, more importantly, a wonderful person and a good friend," said Joseph A. De Francis, president and chief executive officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. "He will be sorely missed."

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Frutkoff was raised in the shadow of Belmont Park, and two of his uncles were camera buffs.

After high school and a 3 1/2 -year stint in the Navy as an aviation boatswain's mate during World War II, he set out for Florida. There, he worked for an uncle whose photo shop tended area tracks. Having plied his craft in that state and at ovals in New Jersey, Mr. Frutkoff began working the Maryland circuit late in 1947. He never left.

"Jerry enjoyed his job and never missed a beat," said Mark Johnston, one of the state's top riders. "He'd come into the jockeys' room, joke around and play cards with the fellas. Even though he was a photographer, he was part of our family -- a real class act."

Mario Pino, the winningest jockey in Maryland history, said, "He was a mainstay, a good friend. I miss him walking around our [dressing] room, saying, 'How ya doin'?' and bringing us pictures. He always took good shots."

One humorous picture, of a filly sitting in the starting gate at Laurel, won him the prestigious Thoroughbred Racing Association's press photo award in 1968 and later appeared on the back cover of Life magazine.

The horse, a stakes winner named Irish Course, "hadn't acted up or given any advance notice she was going to do anything ridiculous," Mr. Frutkoff later told The Sun's Kent Baker. "The next thing you know, she was sitting on her rear. She must have been down three to four minutes."

The photographer quickly ran behind the gate, where the filly turned her head "so that she could kind of see me out of the corner of her right eye. That made the picture."

The accolades afforded that photograph "thrilled Jerry to death," said Jimmy McCue, his business partner of 33 years. "He had a great sense of humor. He once took a picture of a dachshund walking a horse. For the Fourth of July, he had a horse hold an American flag in its mouth.

"Once, in the 1960s, he placed a Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings on a tray in front of a horse's stall. Then he had his daughter Patricia stand there, with knife and fork, looking at the horse as if to say, 'Do you want white meat or dark?'

"Newspapers loved it."

Mr. Frutkoff was proud of having photographed 55 of the last 56 Preakness Stakes, said Mr. McCue. He missed the 1973 race to fill in for a colleague at another track. That year, Secretariat won the Triple Crown.

In 2000, the Maryland Racing Media Association gave Mr. Frutkoff its Humphrey S. Finney Award for lifetime contributions to the sport.

Mr. Frutkoff's wife of two years, the former Jeannette Elliott, died in 1991. Earlier marriages to Isabella Jones and Evangelyn Young ended in divorce.

Services will be held at 9:30 a.m. today at Fleck Funeral Home, 7601 Sandy Spring Road, Laurel.

He is survived by a son, Steven Frutkoff of Hedgesville, W.Va.; four daughters, Patricia Boocks of Eldersburg, Bonita Feeney of Mount Airy, Pamela Field of Newmanstown, Pa., and Lizbeth Frutkoff of Florida; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

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