“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.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers shift their gazes westward for Saturday’s $200,000 Buena Vista Stakes and a challenging allowance-optional claiming affair at Santa Anita.
In the former, a Grade 2 event at a mile on the turf for fillies and mares, the crowd ‘cappers are as close as they’ve come to calling this a walkover. They are almost unanimous in backing 8-5 morning line favorite Vasilika over Ms Bad Behavior (5-1) and Zaffinah (12-1).
“(Her) only stumble came in the Matriarch (G1) when favored from outside post at Del Mar,” wrote Howie Reed of the group’s pick. “Will run down early speed of Fahan Mura (6-1) and Ms Bad Behavior as she has done before. Pratt at top of his game. The Dorf trains.”
I agree that Vasilika is a win machine and the most likely winner, but she’ll likely be odds-on when the gates open. I think Ms Bad Behavior is the horse who could spring an upset, as Mike Smith got acquainted with her last time out and appeared to get her to relax more than she has in the past. I’ve got Vasilika in second and Elysea’s World (4-1) underneath.
In the 10th race, an allowance/optional claiming race for fillies and mares run at 1⅛th mile on the turf, the handicappers also like the favorite, K P Pergolicious (5-2), over Lady Mamba (10-1) and Stradella Road (4-1).
I’m projecting a speed duel that will set the table for Sutro (8-1) to get up late. I like K P Pergolicious for second and Mirth (6-1) for third.
Mike Brunker Review-Journal
Ellis Starr’s Buena Vista Stakes analysis
Although Vasilika loves the Santa Anita turf course, evidenced by eight wins in nine races, I think Zaffinah (IRE) has an upset chance. Looking at just her two-turn turf races since being imported to the U.S. in the winter of 2017, Zaffinah (IRE) has done little wrong either, winning three of seven and finishing second in two others. Her best effort came in her most recent start, on January 21 in the Megahertz Stakes, won by Vasilika, but one in which she was on the rail at a critical point in the stretch with no room to stretch her legs. While Vasilika was in the three path passing leader Ms Bad Behavior, Zaffinah (IRE) continued to wait then spurted through the inside to miss second by a head at the finish. That effort earned her a career-best 110 Equibase Speed Figure. Considering Vasilika earned 113 figures in her last three winning efforts, with Zaffinah (IRE) likely to improve in her second start following two months off, if she can secure a path in the stretch and begin her kick earlier than in the Megahertz, she may be able to turn the tables on Vasilika and post the upset win.
There’s not much to say about Vasilika that isn’t apparent from her past performances or tremendous record of 2018, when she won nine of 11 including three graded stakes. It was a testament to the work done by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer to help the mare to hold top form from February through November, particularly in the fall when she earned 111, 113 and 113 figures while winning the John C. Mabee Stakes, Rodeo Drive Stakes and Goldikova Stakes in succession. Following her fourth place finish in the Matriarch Stakes in December, Vasilika took 49 days off and returned in top form, once again earning a 113 figure when winning the Megahertz at the distance of the Buena Vista. Jockey Flavien Prat rode Vasilika in her last nine wins and continues to know just where to place the mare for her best effort. As such, there’s no denying Vasilika is the one the other nine entrants have to beat to win this race.
Ms Bad Behavior, Fahan Mura and Compelled all have some degree of probability to be in the top four in the Buena Vista and, if neither Zaffinah (IRE) or Vasilika runs their best, to win. Ms Bad Behavior earned a career-best 110 figure when second in the Megahertz after leading late. It was her third straight stakes race in which she has led with an eighth of a mile to go but been passed in the late stages, by three different horses. Fahan Mura will have to get by Ms Bad Behavior early for the lead she likes but can be tough as nails on the front end. Her best effort yielded a 117 figure last year when leading from start to finish in the Swingtime Stakes in October over the course. Compelled has only finished lower than third one time in five tries at a mile on grass. She could be coming on strongly in the late stages like she did when rallying from last of 10 to miss by a nose in the Sensible Lady Turf Dash Stakes last summer. Her 96 figure that day isn’t close to the best in this race but she did earn a 104 figure winning the Mardi Gras Stakes last winter.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.