Rare sale of Native Dancer’s Preakness Stakes trophy

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Native Dancer's 1953 Preakness Stakes trophy is up for auction.
Native Dancer’s 1953 Preakness Stakes trophy is up for auction.

The 1953 Preakness Stakes trophy won by legendary racehorse and sire Native Dancer is going up for auction in New York on May 23.

Is it a great rarity to racing collectors, with only one other Preakness Stakes being trophy sold at auction, that of 1970 winner Personality, according to auction house Doyle. It is estimated to sell for between $US20,000 and $30,000.

Native Dancer's Preakness Stakes Trophy is estimated to sell for between $US20,000 and $30,000.
Native Dancer’s Preakness Stakes Trophy is estimated to sell for between $US20,000 and $30,000.

Native Dancer’s trophy was awarded to his owner, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, a towering figure in the history of Maryland racing. He was the owner of Pimlico Race Course and twice its President (the first time at age 20), and he arranged the famous match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral at Pimlico in 1938. Vanderbilt, a PT Boat Captain in World War II (his father had died aboard the Lusitania), was also the owner of Sagamore Farm in Maryland where Native Dancer, born in Kentucky, was raised and trained.

The trophy stands 53.3cm (21 inches) tall, and weighs 2.7kg. It is Surmounted by the figure of the jockey-mounted horse ‘Lexington’ above a rosette-mounted ring and a bowl with four figures of Winged Victory, holding wreaths in each hand. The base has fences, a stallion, mare and foal on a cruciform plinth with racing saddle, whip and jockey cap, race shoes at the sides.

As a two-year-old in 1952, hard-charging Native Dancer, nicknamed the Grey Ghost, was undefeated and headed into the 1953 Kentucky Derby – the first to be aired live on television – as the crowd favorite to win. Unfortunately, Native Dancer was bumped at the start and finished second, the only loss in his career. Native Dancer was also the heavy favorite heading into the Preakness Stakes a few weeks later, which he won in another hotly contested race, as well as the Belmont and Travers Stakes. He retired to stud at Sagamore Farms with a record of 21 wins in 22 races and went on to sire many later champions.

The story of the Preakness trophy itself is equally compelling: the original Woodlawn Vase, a massive 36-inch-tall trophy made of sterling silver by Tiffany & Co. in 1860 for Woodlawn Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, was first awarded in 1861, but buried for safety during the Civil War. The Woodlawn Vase became the winner’s trophy for the Preakness Stakes in 1917, to be held by the winner for one year only.

One of the four engraved cartouches on the 1953 Preakness Stakes trophy.
One of the four engraved cartouches on the 1953 Preakness Stakes trophy.

This stood until 1953, the year of Native Dancer’s victory, when Mrs. Jeanne Murray Vanderbilt, the wife of Alfred, declined the statue given its historical importance to the sport, and the Woodlawn Vase was sent to the Baltimore Art Museum. A replica of the trophy, made by the Baltimore firm of Schofield (and still made locally by a descendant company) was commissioned to be given to the winner of the Preakness from then forward. Thus the current trophy is the first of the modern Preakness Stakes trophies and the oldest in private hands.

The sale on May 23 of English and Continental Furniture and Decorative Arts / Old Master Paintings includes items from the Estate of Wendy Vanderbilt Lehman, Property of Alfred G. Vanderbilt, and the Estates of Lili and Norman Israel.

Native Dancer after his racing days.
Native Dancer after his racing days.
Native Dancer
Native Dancer
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