Like so many who wind up with occupations in the sport, Jessica Hallett grew up in a harness racing family. Her dad John has spent his life training horses and runs his stable with Jessica’s mom Michelle. Rooted in Florida, the Halletts raced their horses at Pompano Park for decades. The seasonal track would wrap up its seasons in the late spring at which point most of the Florida-based horsemen relocated for a large portion of the year. This was the case with the Halletts who would go from Pompano to Tioga Downs to race for the summer and into the fall.
Last year, when Pompano’s season concluded this time, sadly, it was for good. The track closed its doors permanently after nearly sixty years of racing in South Florida. In that final season, Jessica Hallett took over as the track’s photographer. It was a big task to undertake for someone who was just 22 years old but one that she relished. After all, Hallett was still fairly new to photography as she just picked it up as a hobby a few years earlier.
When she was in high school, Jessica and her friend started to take some picture while attending softball games, a sport which she says was one of her biggest passions as a teenager. From there, Jessica took her camera to the barn on some occasions and just started snapping away. As is the case so often, the more she did it, the better she got at it. And the more her love for photography grew. While still in Florida, Hallett was contacted about taking pictures of stakes races when the regular photographer was not available. She happily accepted that invitation which eventually led to her taking over as the track photographer for Pompano’s final season. What a great opportunity for such a young person who is completely self-taught.
Although the track photographer’s main duty is to take pictures of the winners of races in the winner’s circle, Hallett took it upon herself to do so much more in her brief time in the position at Pompano. She created what is now one of her specialties. That is, she takes candid photos of horses on the track. Some are close-ups, some are when horses are doing something unique on the track and other times, Hallett just snaps what she sees when observing a good photo opp. “Not all horses win,” Jessica told me. “So I decided to take a bunch of candid shots of people’s horses on the track for them which people seemed to love.”
In the fall of 2022, John Hallett relocated his stable to Saratoga at the conclusion of the racing meet at Tioga. Jessica, who visits the barn quite often but doesn’t fancy herself as an assistant trainer or groom, will help out in her dad’s stable with whatever he and her mom need. Last fall, Jessica, who has a desire to go to medical school, took a position as an EMT at Saratoga Casino Hotel, a job she worked part-time as she also continued to dabble in her passion for photography. Her time as an EMT was short-lived as Hallett took over as the track photographer at Saratoga Casino Hotel early in the 2023 campaign, an opportunity she is very excited to have been presented with.
“I love it here,” Jessica told me. “I’m really excited to be here and to be doing this job. I love taking pictures of course but I also love interacting with people, whether it’s the horsemen and women or the fans. I really just enjoy having my camera, being around the horses and trying to capture as many special moments as I can.”
Hallett has really started to have a great presence on social media in the past few months as well. In addition to unveiling dozens of pictures seemingly daily on her own social media platforms, Hallett has been active in posting some of her favorites on the Saratoga Casino website. Fans have grown to love and appreciate some of the incredible vantage point pics that Jessica posts and the sometimes simple and other times unique candids that she captures.
She always seems to be right there in position for the right shot at the right time, a skill for any photographer no doubt. Jessica is also excited to soon be completing a chronicle of the final season of Pompano Park which she will be releasing soon. The book will really be more of a magazine-style remembrance of the final year at Pompano featuring pictures and stories from her debut year as a track photographer. She expects it to be a 100+ page book and fans of Pompano or harness racing in general should really be excited for its publication when that occurs.
When I asked Jessica Hallett about her future plans, she was steadfast in her desire to someday attend medical school, and probably sooner rather than later. She did admit that her new position as track photographer has pushed those plans back just a bit as she decided to take the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) and take a year and see how things unfold. After all, she is just 23 years of age so there is certainly plenty of time for her to decide on how to find that balance between photography and her future goal of going to medical school. As far as hobbies, Jessica told me that anything artistic interests her.
“I love pretty much every form of art. I love to draw, I enjoy painting and do some writing too,” she explained. “And photography isn’t just a job for me. I take pictures at the barn and sometimes when our horses are turned out. It makes for great shots sometimes in those settings.”
As far as the stable, John Hallett does the jogging and training and his wife Michelle takes care of the grooming. So yes, much as it is in so maybe barns in harness racing, the Hallett stable is certainly a family affair. On the track, John is now just two wins shy of reaching the 500 win milestone for his career, a feat he will no doubt achieve in the coming weeks. The family recently bought a house in Saratoga so with the exception of any horses that may compete in stakes races throughout the state, Saratoga Casino Hotel will be the home for the Hallett stable for the foreseeable future and the winner’s circle will be the home away from home for Jessica Hallett who is a couple months into her tenure as Saratoga’s track photographer. Jessica Hallett is no doubt what the sport of harness racing needs, an energetic, talented infusion of youth. You can check out her work on Twitter @JHallettphoto or head to the photographer’s booth at the track.
Live racing takes place every Saturday evening at Saratoga starting at 5pm and continues with matinees on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday afternoons beginning at noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU the finish line!