ALONG WITH LA-BASED GIL STRATTON & HARRY HENSON, BURNHAM HELPED TO ENGAGE AN ENTIRE GENERATION OF RACING FANS VIA SATURDAY AFTERNOON TELECASTS ON KNXT CHANNEL 2
ARCADIA, Calif. (Dec. 12, 2018)–Long held in the highest regard within the racing community both locally and on a national scale, Santa Anita-based cinematographer Joe Burnham, who passed away 24 years ago, has been selected to the National Museum of Racing’s Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor, it was announced in a press release on Tuesday.
Born in 1923 in Norfolk, VA., Burnham was a longtime resident of nearby Sierra Madre, which overlooks The Great Race Place and has long been populated by a large number of local horsemen, including Burnham’s good friend, the late Hall of Fame conditioner, Charlie Whittingham.
One of the most highly respected cinematographers and television producers in Thoroughbred racing history, Burnham earned an Eclipse Award for film achievement in 1972, and produced racing’s annual Eclipse Awards for 17 years.
Although these contributions were noteworthy, ask any Southern California racing fan that dates back to the 1960s and early 70s what Burnham’s greatest achievement was, and they’ll likely tell you it was his work behind the camera on “The Santa Anita Feature Race,” a fast-moving 30 minute show that aired Saturday afternoons on KNXT Channel 2, LA’s CBS affiliate. (Syndicated in 17 western markets, the show also aired live from Hollywood Park and Del Mar and was sponsored by Union Oil).
Hosted by popular sportscaster and actor, Gil Stratton, races like the Santa Anita Handicap, Santa Margarita Handicap, Santa Anita Derby and the San Juan Capistrano Invitational were called live by legendary Hollywood Park announcer Harry Henson.
From behind the scenes interviews and features filmed at California Thoroughbred farms and on the backstretches of Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar, the show interspersed interviews with jockeys, trainers, owners and A-list celebrities on a consistent basis, all the while building to the crescendo of the race itself.
And the man driving the drama and fast paced action? Yes, it was the incomparable Joe Burnham, who had attained the rank of Captain while serving in the Army during World War II, in which he was wounded at Guadalcanal. Following a medical discharge, Burnham moved to California and began working in the film industry, where his early work included contributing to a Warner Brothers short documentary on a jockey. The “Short” was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award in photography. Burnham’s camera assistant throughout the 1960s was Del Mar’s Joe Harper.
“Joe was so incredibly talented and just a tremendous guy,” said Santa Anita Vice President of Business Coordination and Director of Broadcasting, Amy Zimmerman on Tuesday. “Joe was a mentor, advisor and confidant to many of us not only here at Santa Anita, but around the country as well. His influence on the sport and how it is covered continues today. In fact, Santa Anita’s newest commercial–which was completed just this week–features an extensive amount of historical footage shot by Joe.”
Burnham also produced several films for Santa Anita, including ‘In Pursuit of Greatness,’ which is a history of the first 50 years of the Santa Anita Handicap and ‘On the Right Track,’ which he produced in the 1980s and is a celebration of Santa Anita’s turf racing over the years–including Johnny Longden’s last ride aboard George Royal in the 1966 San Juan Capistrano.
Memorialized in 2015 with a sidewalk plaque in the Arcadia Historical Society’s Thoroughbred Walk of Champions, just east of Santa Anita, Joe Burnham will now take his rightful place among the giants of the Thoroughbred industry as he now forever graces the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs, New York.