Lelands Auctions to Bring Racing History to Life at Inaugural Equestricon:
Historic Items and Live On-Site Memorabilia Appraisals Announced
During the first annual Equestricon—horse racing’s premier convention and trade show, debuting August 13 - 15 in Saratoga Springs, New York—fans will get their fair share of opportunities to interact with current stars, as well as celebrate the sport’s storied past.
In addition to appearances by jockeys of Triple Crown-winning horses and Hall of Famers, Equestricon just announced a partnership with Lelands, a leading sports auction house, that will bring some of the most significant pieces of racing memorabilia to life at the historic convention.
As part of a preview of an online auction to be held on Lelands.com, items including Secretariat’s 1973 Preakness garland will be on display at Equestricon. Lelands will also stage a pop-up “appraisal station” at Equestricon, where attendees can bring their racing memorabilia to find out what it may be worth.
In recent years, Lelands' president Mike Heffner has seen an uptick in the popularity of racing memorabilia, both in individual auctions and at its annual National Sports Collectors Convention. So, when Heffner heard about the debut of Equestricon, he jumped on the opportunity to get involved.
“This sounded very similar [to fan conventions] and like a great idea to introduce more collectors and people and fans to Thoroughbred racing,” Heffner said. “The fact that it is geared solely toward horse racing and horses and Thoroughbreds, I think that makes it something that is very unique. There’s been so much success with other things, such as Comic-Con and our own convention.”
Lelands has a history of auctioning special equine items. To secure some of those items, the auction house has worked with Leonard Lusky, the president of Commemorative Derby Promotions, which promotes and markets Thoroughbred collectibles.
“They have really come to the forefront in terms of horse racing memorabilia,” Lusky noted, referring to Lelands.
In the past, Lelands has sold horseshoes worn by the likes of Secretariat and Man o’ War; a saddle used by the immortal Seabiscuit; and the winner’s trophy awarded to the connections of Spend a Buck after that horse’s 1985 Kentucky Derby victory.
“[Items] of high quality and high value are really the things that we go after the most,” Heffner said. “We have definitely been able to grow it and we’re looking to grow it even more, with the hopes of someday having an auction that’s specifically geared towards horse racing.”
Historical items, regardless of which sport they’re associated with, carry great sentimental significance for collectors. Heffner has witnessed first-hand the types of connections that his customers have with the products Lelands has brought to the auction market in recent years.
“It basically is a passion that is shared by all sports collectors. A lot of it is reliving the past when it comes to collectibles. It’s being a historian and it’s also reliving the past. Whether it’s baseball or horse racing, people have fond memories of certain races that they’ve been at, either as a child or an adult, so this is not only history, but it’s our past,” he said.
Heffner is also excited about the series of free, Antiques Road Show-style appraisals of horse racing memorabilia that Lelands will offer throughout the convention.
“The stuff that we really love is that historical stuff that relates to the horses or the Hall of Fame jockeys—the saddles, the silks, the winners’ blankets. Anything relating to the greats, we’re interested in,” he said.
During their appraisal sessions, Heffner, Lusky, and one or two other appraisers will evaluate items that fans will bring in and estimate their worth. Regardless of the artifacts’ eventual value, Heffner simply encourages fans to bring in their treasures and interact with other racing enthusiasts. Lelands is even accepting on-site consignments and is open to purchasing items from fans.
Equestricon will mark the first time that Lelands has ever conducted live on-site appraisals, specifically for horse racing memorabilia.
“We have been down in Louisville doing this type of thing, but that was a catch-all. It’s wasn’t specifically horse racing, so this is the first time that we’re doing it specific to horse racing,” Heffner said. “We’ve seen a lot of stuff, but every time we do one of these things, I find that we see something that we haven’t seen before, and that’s what makes it so much fun for us…. There’s a selfish aspect, in that it is a lot of fun because you just never know what’s going to walk in.”
Apart from appraising the memorabilia of other collectors, Lelands will showcase its own items at Equestricon. The collectibles will be a sampling of Lelands fall 2017 catalogue, which will be available through a live online auction that will continue after Equestricon. The standout item will undoubtedly be the winner’s garland of black-eyed Susans bestowed upon Triple Crown winner Secretariat’s connections, Meadow Stables, after the colt won the 1973 Preakness Stakes. That race was, of course, the champion’s second consecutive classic win after the Kentucky Derby; after the Preakness, Secretariat went on to win the Belmont, completing a sweep of that year’s Triple Crown.
An original from the personal collection of Meadow’s grand dame, Helen “Penny” Chenery Tweedy, the garland is a verified piece of Thoroughbred history. “It was a prized keepsake,” according to Lusky, who runs Secretariat.com, in conjunction with the Chenery family.
Of all three Triple Crown races, it’s Secretariat’s Preakness win—apart from his emphatic triumph over Sham in the Kentucky Derby or his 31-length tour de force in the Belmont Stakes— that has most recently been in the news. “Big Red” was well-known for lightning-quick finishes in the Derby (covering the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59 2/5, a track record that still stands) and the Belmont (getting the mile and a half in 2:24, then a world record), but, for decades, his running time in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness was registered as an excellent, if not record-setting, 1:54 2/5. Racing fans long doubted the accuracy of the clockers’ results. It was only in 2012 that Secretariat was given his just due and the Maryland Racing Commission voted to correct his official time to 1:53.
The legend of Secretariat is alive and well for collectors, Lusky noted.
“Secretariat memorabilia has been escalating in price since ’73 and particularly in the last three to four years, it has really skyrocketed,” he said. “There are collectors who want the best, the iconic figures of anything… artifacts of Secretariat now are becoming sale-toppers in memorabilia shows.”
Proceeds from the sale of Mrs. Chenery’s garland will benefit the R.A.C.E. (Retirement Assistance and Care for Equines) Fund, a Pennsylvania-based organization that provides aftercare to retired Thoroughbreds.
“She likes helping the industry,” Lusky said. “Ever since she won the Triple Crown, she’s wanted to give back to the industry, and this is one way of doing that.”
In the past, Mrs. Chenery has donated items like original watercolors and additional Secretariat memorabilia to be auctioned.
During Equestricon, Lusky said, six or seven premier items will go on display and be available for initial bids. He described these sensational artifacts as ones that are going to create a “wow, knock-your-socks-off” effect at the event. Fans have long maintained an interest in such historic items; last year, Secretariat’s saddlecloth from the Kentucky Derby, long missing, was featured on the Smithsonian Channel’s docu-series Sports Detectives.
In addition to Secretariat’s Preakness garland, Lusky indicated major piece of memorabilia from each of Secretariat’s Triple Crown races will also be on display at Equestricon. From Secretariat’s Derby, attendees will get a look at jockey Ron Turcotte’s 1a armband, and from the Belmont will be the Triple Crown blanket awarded to Secretariat after his show-stopping victory in the Test of the Champion.
Lusky also facilitated another portion of the featured attractions within Equestricon’s “Legends of Racing Hub”. On Monday and Tuesday of the convention, the hub will be the site of appearances and autograph signings from famous industry personalities. Among the industry luminaries scheduled to participate are Triple Crown-winning jockeys Ron Turcotte, Secretariat’s regular rider; Steve Cauthen (aboard Affirmed during that chestnut colt’s 1978 Triple Crown sweep); and Jean Cruguet (who piloted Seattle Slew to his Triple Crown victory in 1977). These three legends will also participate in a Q&A session, moderated by former jockey and NBC Sports presenter Donna Brothers.
Additionally, racing fans will be able to meet and chat with legends like Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, who won each of the Triple Crown races at least once. Veteran Turf writer Bill Nack, who penned Secretariat: The Making of a Champion, will appear alongside Charlie Davis, Secretariat’s exercise rider, and Turcotte.
“The accessibility [at Equestricon] to really get to the people that are such key figures in the sport is unprecedented,” Lusky remarked. “I can’t ever remember an auction taking place where the actual connections to the memorabilia are there to talk to fans about it.”
As a lifelong racing enthusiast and advocate for fan involvement in the sport, Lusky can’t wait for festivities to kick off at the inaugural convention.
“Equestricon, as a whole—it’s something the industry so desperately needs. It’s one of these things that is just great for the industry and we are in full support of that because it is a fan-driven sport,” he said. “They’re the lifeblood of racing industry, the fans are, and anything that can further enhance their interest and their participation, we’re for.”