NEW YORK, NY -- There are few American racing collectibles as important and evocative as the "owner's trophy" awarded to Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Jr.'s legendary racehorse Native Dancer in the 1953 Preakness Stakes. Hard-charging Native Dancer, nicknamed the Grey Ghost, was the heavy favorite heading into the Preakness Stakes, which he won in a hotly contested race. He later won the Belmont and Travers Stakes. Native Dancer’s only loss in his career of 21 wins in 22 races was the Kentucky Derby of 1953, robbing him of the Triple Crown. He retired to stud at Sagamore Farm in Maryland and sired many later champions.
Native Dancer’s owner, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Jr. (1912-1999), is a towering figure in the history of Maryland racing. He was the owner of Sagamore Farm where Native Dancer was raised and trained, and Pimlico Race Course, the home of the Preakness Stakes. In 1938, he arranged the famous match race at Pimlico between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, which captivated the nation.
The story of the Preakness trophy itself is equally fascinating. The original Woodlawn Vase is a massive 36-inch-tall sterling trophy made by Tiffany & Co. in 1860 for Woodlawn Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1917, the Woodlawn Vase became the winner's trophy for the Preakness Stakes and was passed annually from one year’s winner to the next. Upon Native Dancer’s victory in 1953, Jeanne Murray Vanderbilt, Mr. Vanderbilt’s wife, declined the statue due to its historical significance to the sport, and the Woodlawn Vase was sent to the Baltimore Art Museum.
A replica of the Woodlawn Vase was created by the Baltimore firm of Schofield for the Vanderbilts, and thus began the modern tradition of a new Preakness trophy for each winner.
We can only trace one Preakness Stakes trophy sold at auction, that for the 1970 winner, Personality, who did not achieve as many wins or gain the national affection showered on Native Dancer in 1953. Nor did it have an owner as highly regarded and influential to the history of the sport as Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Jr. The 1953 Preakness Stakes trophy is truly one of the most compelling treasures of thoroughbred racing.
The 1953 Preakness Stakes Trophy
Auction: May 23, 2018
Exhibition: May 19 - 21