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How Affirmed’s Triple Crown trophy ended up in ‘Pawn Stars’

Updated February 21, 2019 - 6:30 pm

“You never know what is going to come through that door,” Rick Harrison of “Pawn Stars” fame says in the introduction of the wildly popular History Channel series, and he was never more spot on than when a man showed up recently with Affirmed’s Triple Crown trophy in hand.

As a horse racing fan, I was taken aback by the idea of this rare piece of horse racing hardware turning up in a Las Vegas pawn shop rather than being in a museum. As Rick’s son, Corey, said on the episode that aired in late January, it’s like someone showing up looking to pawn the Stanley Cup.

Well, not quite like that.

There could be as many as 39 Triple Crown trophies floating around — one for each winning owner, trainer and jockey of the 13 winners of the series consisting of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes — as well as a perpetual trophy on display at the Kentucky Derby museum. But the number is likely lower, as the trophies given to the jockeys and trainers were only handed out at the discretion of the owner, who had to pay $30,000 apiece for the duplicates.

The trophy in question was given to Affirmed’s trainer, Laz Barrera, after the colt survived three tough races against bitter rival Alydar in 1978. Barrera’s family sold it after his death in 1991, and it has changed hands among high-end sports memorabilia collectors several times since.

The current owner bought it strictly as an investment, according to Dan Wulkan, a partner in the Memory Lane Inc. auction site. Wulkan, who is representing him and appeared on the “Pawn Stars” episode as an expert appraiser, said his client held out hope that Corey would meet his asking price of $500,000, but wasn’t too disappointed after rejecting his best offer of $225,000.

“It’s a show in over 130 countries and in over 60 languages. I think anyone in the world would say that’s some pretty darn good exposure for an item like this,” said Wulkan, adding that he has received several inquiries since the episode aired.

Wulkan said the trophy is one of the sporting world’s “iconic items,” rarer by far than World Series or Super Bowl rings. He compared it to the World Series, Stanley Cup or Super Bowl trophies, adding that owning it would be “like throwing on a Masters jacket.”

Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed to the rarest of horse racing achievements at the ripe old age of 18, said he heard that the trophy made a recent appearance on “Pawn Stars” and shed light on how his signature ended up on the Cartier-made silver inverse pyramid.

He said he became aware that the trophy was on the market several years ago when he was at a card-signing event in Baltimore.

“I looked up and said, ‘By gum, that looks like a Triple Crown trophy,’ and I go over there and say ‘where’d you get that?’” he recalled this week. “… He asked me to sign it.”

Cauthen, 58, said he still has the trophy presented to him after the series sweep.

“They’re really cool. They’re unique. Just the rarity of it,” he said. “… There’s been a few of them recently, but it may not happen again for another 30 years. It’s obviously a very difficult trophy to pull off.”

In case you were wondering, Rick Harrison says the trophy is nowhere near the rarest or most unusual item to come through the shop.

“Some of the coolest and most unique things that have come through the shop are an Enigma code-breaking machine from WW II that we offered $85,000 for and no deal; an English vampire defense kit from the 1890s, complete with wooden stakes and pistols and silver bullets (still available for purchase on the gspawn website for $25,000); … and a 1,200-year-old Viking bracelet I paid $7,000 for and wear a lot. If you fall asleep in the bracelet, you have dreams of pillaging England.”

I’ve had that dream many a time. Maybe after Brexit, there will be a chance to make it happen.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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