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The Woodlawn Vase - courtesy of James McCue, Pimlico Track Photographer
The Woodlawn Vase - courtesy of James McCue, Pimlico Track Photographer

The Woodlawn Vase: from Kentucky to New York to Maryland, the Most Valuable and Well-Traveled Racing Trophy in American Horse Racing

by Marion E. Altieri for Equine Info Exchange

The Woodlawn Vase, a magnificent chunk of solid sterling silver (36” tall, 400 ounces) has been the inspiration for Thoroughbred owners and trainers who aim their steeds at the Preakness Stakes every year since 1917.

The breathtakingly beautiful piece was designed in 1860 by Tiffany, and first won by Thomas G. Moore’s filly, Mollie Jackson in 1861 in Louisville. The following year, his mare, Idlewild, won the trophy—and thereby kept the valuable piece in Moore’s possession.

Fast-forwarding to 1917, when the Vase became the official trophy of the Preakness and awarded to the Preakness winner, Kalitan and this year celebrates its 100th year as the reward for winning the second jewel in the American Triple Crown.

But in-between Mr. Moore’s possession of the trophy in 1862 and 1917…what happened to it?

In 1862, Captain Moore, owner of Woodlawn Farm in Kentucky, felt the hot winds of war breathing down the neck of his old Kentucky home…and buried the marvelous chunk of solid sterling silver on his property, along with the family silver and jewels. He feared that Confederate soldiers would confiscate the pure silver Vase, and melt it down for ammunition.

Following the war, Captain Moore unearthed the Vase—by now, named the Woodlawn Vase—remained in Kentucky until 1878. In that year, the Dwyer brothers from Brooklyn took the Vase when their horse, Bramble, won the American Stallion Stakes at Churchill Downs. The brothers promptly took their treasure to Long Island, and presented it to the Coney Island Jockey Club, where it remained in residence for the next 25 years.

The Vase found itself at many tracks over the course of time: from Louisville to Coney Island, thence to Westchester County’s short-lived but beloved Morris Park Race Course. Along the way, it was the goal at tracks in Elizabeth, New Jersey; Sheepshead Bay and Jerome Park in New York. Finally, to its permanent home in Baltimore at Pimlico in 1917.

Cited often as being “the most valuable trophy in (American) horse racing,” the solid sterling silver and its provenance as a Tiffany piece originally was valued for insurance purposes at a cool $1 million. (Originally, that is, in 1860.) While it generally is considered, priceless, as of this writing, currently it is insured for $4 million. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the great artwork’s reign at the races in Balto. Again, the Vase will leave its safe haven at the Baltimore Museum of Art but and journey the five miles to Pimlico to preside over the Preakness. As in every year past, the Vase will be transported lovingly between the Museum for its brief day (actually) in the sun.

The blindingly silver trophy be handled gently with white gloves (literally) by soldiers of the Maryland Army National Guard and Air National Guard airmen. With great reverence for the sentimental and monetary value of their historic charge, the soldiers and airmen will carry the Vase across the lawn to Old Hilltop, where she will be handed to the owner of the Preakness winner.

However, lest you think that the Preakness winner gets to take home the wildly-valuable trophy…the answer is, No. Between 1917 and 1953, yes, the owners of Preakness winners were given the Vase to keep at their homes for one year, until the following Preakness.

But in 1953, Mrs. Joanne Murray Vanderbilt (wife of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt II) stated that she really didn’t want the heaviness of responsibility for something that was so sentimentally- and monetarily- precious. Mrs. Vanderbilt’s reluctance was understandable, so henceforth, the winning owner poses, smiling, with the original—then, takes home a smaller replica of solid sterling silver. (Owners receive a trophy that’s 35% of original size: 14”, valued @ $40K); and 12” tall, value: $15K for jockeys and trainers).

Happy Anniversary to the Woodlawn Vase and its long history as the official trophy of the Preakness Stakes. Of all trophies in American horse racing, no doubt the Vase is the most financially and sentimentally valuable—but also, we suggest, it is the most well-traveled piece of horse racing trophies, anywhere.

Like every great racehorse whose owner has held it, the Woodlawn Vase is beautiful, strong and has earned its place in history books, for time and all Eternity.

You can find more interesting stories in our section on Racing & Wagering.

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