Tony Leonard, a legendary equine photographer who chronicled the golden age of Thoroughbred racing, died July 14 at Homestead Nursing Home in Lexington. He was 89.
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.
Deciding to settle down in the bluegrass, Leonard began taking pictures of horses in the area as a hobby that soon turned into a full-time profession. 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.
Leonard spent 50 years taking pictures of racing's greatest stars and developed an outstanding reputation. His photos graced many magazine covers; his style one that many protégés sought to master.