The Preakness Stakes' Woodlawn Vase: The Most Expensive Trophy in American Sports? - NBC New York
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The Preakness Stakes' Woodlawn Vase: The Most Expensive Trophy in American Sports?

During the Civil War, when competitive racing was put on hold, the Woodlawn Vase was buried to keep it from being discovered and melted into shot

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    The owner of the horse that wins this weekend’s Preakness Stakes will get an oversized floral garland, 15 minutes of fame and a copy of a storied trophy that's said to be the most valuable in American sports.

    The Woodlawn Vase, an ornate, Tiffany-designed solid sterling silver piece dating back to 1860 is touted as “the most expensive trophy in American sports” by Preakness officials. A 1983 insurance appraisal valued the vase, which stands 34 inches tall and weighs 29 pounds, at $1 million. Today it is estimated to be worth $4 million.

    What makes the vase so valuable?

    It was designed by luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co., but so were many major American sports trophies: the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy, the World Series trophy, the U.S. Open trophy.

    But the Woodlawn Vase was the first sports trophy designed by Tiffany. 

    It’s also arguably the most ornate of the major American sports trophies. The vase is covered in inscriptions and emblems and topped with four winged victories and, finally, with a jockey mounted on a stallion.

    The vase "may be the most spectacular example in sports for its great craftsmanship by Tiffany. It also may have the best back story," said longtime sports memorabilia appraiser Leila Dunbar in an email.

    The Woodlawn Vase carries a great deal of history. During the Civil War, when competitive racing was put on hold, the Woodlawn Vase was buried to keep it from being discovered and melted into shot. It was disinterred when the race resumed in 1866.

    Four million dollars is a lot of money — you could buy four million-dollar yachts with that. But is the Woodlawn Vase really the most expensive trophy in American sports?

    The FIFA World Cup Trophy, created in 1974, is said to be worth as much as $20 million — its outer layer is 18-carat gold and it weighs 13 pounds. But Dunbar is skeptical of the $20 million estimate.

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    "While it weighs more than 13 pounds of 18K gold, which today is about $270,000, it is difficult, given the market and past sale of the FA Cup, to see it valued more than several million dollars."

    Regardless, FIFA isn’t strictly an American sport, so its golden trophy can’t steal the Woodlawn’s thunder anyway.

    Other American sports trophies have rough estimated values hovering in the tens of thousands, but none are reported to be worth as much as a million dollars.

    "The folks at Wimbledon Lawn and Tennis Club, the USGA (U.S. Golf Association) and the R&A (The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews) might also claim that their trophies, for the tournaments that they represent, are in that range," Dunbar says. "However, the Preakness trophy does have greater artistic value and therefore may win by a nose."

    Maj. Michael Singletary, the vice president of security operations for the Maryland Jockey Club at Pimlico Park, confirmed that the vase is insured for $4 million. Singletary is in charge of overseeing the careful transport of the vase five miles from its permanent home, the Baltimore Museum of Art, to the racetrack on the week of the Preakness.

    Two armed police officers pick up the vase, he said. “They have to wear white gloves to handle it — no one is allowed to touch the vase.”

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    As the vase is moved around the park for various pre-race events throughout the week, the two armed and gloved officers carry it and stand guard over it.

    Even the owners of the winning horses aren’t allowed to touch it. Because the vase is so valuable, winners have not been able to take the prize home since 1953. They each receive replicas, which stand 14 inches tall and are worth around $30,000. Jockeys and trainers get replicas as well — though theirs stand 12 inches tall. 

    While Singletary did concede that the vase is insured for $4 million, his initial and persistent response regarding the value of the Woodlawn Vase was that it’s “priceless.”