When it Comes to Horse Racing, Kentucky Derby Memorabilia Leads the Field
Signed Sports Illustrated covers framed with horseshoes from Justify and American Pharoah, the Triple Crown winners, sold for over $36,000 in 2018.
Often referred to as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” the thrill and the pageantry of the Kentucky Derby are undeniable. The annual “Run for the Roses” dates back to 1875 and is the oldest consecutively run horse race in the country. With 145 years of tradition and competition, there are plenty of sports collectibles and memorabilia related to the race and horse racing in general.
Big Names Means Big Prices
In 1973, the horse-racing world was captivated and forever changed by Secretariat. The horse’s incredible Triple Crown victory has become part of American lore and pop culture. The thoroughbred still holds the record for the fastest running of the Kentucky Derby. To this day, memorabilia related to the horse can sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
To this day, memorabilia related to the horse Secretariat can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. One of the most recent items sold at auction belonging to Secretariat was a Kentucky Derby race-worn horseshoe that went for $80,736.
One of the most recent items sold at auction belonging to Secretariat was a Kentucky Derby race-worn horseshoe. Lelands facilitated the event in August of 2018. The realized price was an impressive $80,736. Other notable sales related to the famed horse include one of his victory blankets ($88,810). Even the nails that hold the horseshoe are collectible with one once selling for $6,100. In September of 2018, the personal ticket and program of Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery sold for $11,687.
In September of 2018, the personal ticket and program of Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery sold for $11,687.
Heritage Auctions called it “Unquestionably one of the most significant horse racing pieces ever made available to the collecting public.” In February of last year, the esteemed auction house offered a personal version of the Triple Crown trophy given to Affirmed trainer Laz Berrera in 1978. The trophy also includes the signature of jockey Steve Cauthen. Pre-auction estimates valued the rare piece in excess of $250,000. However, it failed to meet the reserve and went unsold.
One of the most storied horses in American history is Seabiscuit. Despite never winning the prestigious Triple Crown or the Kentucky Derby itself, his place among the greats is secure. He was a leading money winner of his day and defeated Triple Crown winner, War Admiral, in a head-to-head race by four lengths. The career of the legendary animal was chronicled in the Academy Award-nominated movie, Seabiscuit, in 2003.
With that degree of popularity and fame, it should be no surprise that the horse’s memorabilia can sell for top dollar. In 2015, a 28-lot collection of Seabiscuit memorabilia offered at auction by Leland’s garnered realized bids of nearly $200,000. The top selling item was a saddle used by jockey Red Pollard when he rode the legendary racehorse, selling for $104,260.
A saddle used by jockey Red Pollard when he rode Seabiscuit sold for $104,260.
In 2015, American Pharoah became the first horse to win the illustrious Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, a remarkable 37-year gap. However, it would be just three years later that the world would see another Triple Crown winner in Justify. To date, items related to these historic victories have been rather hard to come by. However, in November of 2018, Bob Baffert, the legendary trainer who trained both horses, donated a couple of his personal items to a charity auction. Baffert donated a halter worn by Justify and horseshoes worn by both Justify and American Pharoah. They sold for 31,050 and $36,800, respectively.
Sometimes, trophies are worth their weight in gold and even more so. In 2016, The Kentucky Derby owner’s trophy commemorating Spend a Buck’s victory at Churchill Downs in 1985 sold for $188,305 through Lelands. The piece contains nearly 62 ounces of gold, which at the time was worth over $50,000 alone. In the same auction, a halter worn by the aforementioned American Pharoah sold for $19,326.
In 2016, The Kentucky Derby owner’s trophy (containing 62 ounces of gold) commemorating Spend a Buck’s victory at Churchill Downs in 1985 sold for $188,305 through Lelands.
Horse Racing Memorabilia on A Budget
Thankfully, you don’t have to have thousands of dollars in disposable income to collect Kentucky Derby and other horse racing memorabilia.
First offered to patrons in 1939, Kentucky Derby commemorative drinking glasses have become a collector favorite through the years. Typically served with the race’s signature drink, the mint julip, these glasses range in value. A lot of assorted glasses, from varying years, recently sold on eBay for $35.
When it comes to their collectability, the older the better. This glass, from 1958, recently sold on eBay for $88. Glasses from their first year of issue are difficult to locate, with only a handful of examples in the WorthPoint database. They can sell for as much as $6,000. Interestingly enough, it appears that the rarest glass of all is from the following year, 1940. Examples of these have sold on eBay for as much as $15,000.
The world of horse racing has even been the subject of trading card content. In 2012, Panini America released a product called Golden Age. This retro-themed product includes autographs of Secretariat owner Penny Chenery and jockey Ron Turcotte. There are even cards containing pieces of a Secretariat workout saddle used during the horse’s two-year racing career during which he won the Triple Crown. Company officials state that the saddle came from the stable of the legendary horse’s trainer, Lucien Lauren and was “passed on to one of Lauren’s stable hands as a gift.”
In 2012, Panini America released a product called Golden Age. This retro-themed product includes autographs of Secretariat owner Penny Chenery and jockey Ron Turcotte.
Price values for the aforementioned cards vary in price and see spikes during the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown season. A copy of Penny Chenery’s autographed card sold for $70 on eBay in February of this year. Turcotte’s autograph is pretty readily available. These cards can be found in the $10-15 range, sometimes less. The Secretariat saddle cards sell for between $50-80.
Perhaps one of the oddest or most interesting horse racing collectibles, depending on how you look at it, are trading cards containing pieces of actual horse hair. In 2009, trading card manufacturer produced insert cards titled Thoroughbred Hair Cuts. These cards included Kentucky Derby winners Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, as well as contender, Afleet Alex. They don’t come up for auction very often but can sell in the $40-50 range.
Perhaps one of the oddest or most interesting horse racing collectibles, depending on how you look at it, are trading cards containing pieces of actual horse hair.
In addition to the previously mentioned items, more common ephemera from the Kentucky Derby and other Triple Crown races are also collectible. This is especially true from signature events. Tickets, programs, and paddock access passes are all collectible. The values vary from mere keepsakes to bonafide memorabilia–like this general admission ticket stub from 1933 shown below that sold for $500.
This general admission ticket stub from 1933 sold for $500 in 2016.
The grand spectacle and majestic presence of these gifted animals, and the talented trainers and jockeys, who train and ride them, makes for memorable moments. Harnessing these memories with memorabilia has become a passioned pursuit for many collectors. The magnitude of available collectibles is tremendous. It’s never too late to start your own collection of horse racing memorabilia.
Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 25 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been involved with multi-media content development for several sports collectibles websites. Currently the Senior Marketing Manager for Sports & Entertainment at the hobby distributor GTS Distribution, he is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live streaming and nationally broadcast web show, Go GTS Live – The Hobby’s Web Show. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.
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