Monday, March 25, 2013

The Woodlawn Vase

Tradition has it's place, especially in horse racing.  The Woodlawn Vase is a glittering reminder of racing's illustrious heritage and why often, vintage is best and having a "past" is not necessarily a bad thing.


It's past is, well, let's just say, it has an incredible one.  Molly Jackson (the mare) was first awarded this 36 inch tall sold sterling silver masterpiece in 1861 in Louisville, Kentucky.  Since then the trophy has fallen into "Yankee hands" and was appraised by Tiffany's in 1983 to worth a stunning $1,000,000 but today is said to be worth four times that.  This is easily the most valuable trophy in American sports.

You may have seen the Vase on television if it happens to look familiar.  Today, the Preakness winner is handed the vase on television, but if you win, you don't get to keep it or even take it home.  But you did a smaller replica (35% of scale, but worth $40,000) that you get to keep. The winning trainer and jockey are given solid sterling cups that look similar to the trophy and valued at $15,000 each.  Since Native Dancer won it in 1953, owner Alfred Vanderbilt II declined to take possession of it and since then no one else has either.  The trophy now lives in Baltimore Museum of Art until it is escorted by the Maryland Army National Guard Soldiers and Air National Guard Airmen to the race course each summer.  

The trophy was created by Col. Robert Aitcheson Alexander, a breeder, who asked Tiffany to create a trophy for the Woodlawn Racing Association in Kentucky.  The Woodlawn Course was the precursor of Churchill Downs.  When Mollie Jackson won the cup in 1861 Capt. Thomas Moore took the cup home.  When the war broke out he smartly buried the trophy thinking the Union Army would find it and melt it down. After the war, the vase was unearthed and it remained in Kentucky until 1878 when the Dwyer Brothers captured it with Bramble in the American Stallion Stakes at Churchill Downs.  They took the trophy to Brooklyn.

The trophy was then contested at the Coney Island Jockey Club's meeting at Sheepshead Bay.  Later the vase was awarded at two other New York tracks, Jerome Park and Morris Park.  Thomas Clyde won the trophy in 1904 and gave it to the Maryland Jockey Club in 1917.  


The trophy is now part of the Woodward Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art which is considered one of the finest collections of British sporting art in America with its 52 paintings of horses and racing scenes and silver and gold racing trophies along with replicas of the trophies from the three Triple Crown races won by Gallant Fox and Omaha, bred and raced by William Woodward who is from Maryland.


  1. I knew the Vase was the most valuable trophy awarded in sports, but did not know its entire history. Thanks for filling me in!

  2. How fortuitous! I was just planning a trip to Baltimore. Now I know where I must go. Thanks very much for the information.


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