A tale of two trophies

The Belmont Stakes trophy.

The Belmont Stakes trophy. (saratoga.com)

American Pharoah won the Triple Crown today, the first horse in 37 years to sweep the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, and only the 12th to do so in the history of the Sport of Kings. What, other than the odds of winning more money by choosing one over another, might be the basis for preferring a horse in this race is Greek to me. I rooted for Pharoah, but only because I thought the rarity of a Triple Crown victor might elicit some interesting comments after the race. This was, I suppose, an example of hope’s triumph over experience, since in the last major horse race I saw the owner of the favored horse, whose name I forget (horse and owner) threw a famous hissy fit after it lost.

Triple Crown Trophy. (tracksideview.net)

Triple Crown Trophy. (tracksideview.net)

But this post is about why the Triple Crown trophy looks so tedious. It is a three-sided silver flagon with a single horse etched into each side of its base. The silver trophy for the Belmont Stakes I’d be hard pressed to describe, but it’s a sculpted horse standing atop a huge clump of verdure itself sitting upon an even larger bowl-shaped pillow of what seem to be lapping textile squares – actually an oak and acorn motif symbolizing the siring of horses. This assemblage is itself supported in the air on the backs of three horses greater in stature than the horse on top.

Obviously I prefer the Belmont trophy to the Triple Crown trophy, which was forged in 1950 – no doubt a step down from its predecessor, if there was one. The owner of American Pharoah will get both the TC and the BS trophies. I have no idea whether he must give up one or both to the next Belmont Stakes or Triple Crown winner, as the Lombardi Trophy must be given up by the Patriots next year (unless they win back-to-back Super Bowls). So however long Pharoah’s owner keeps them both, will he give pride of place in his trophy case to the prettier one or to the more significant but less alluring one?

Maybe this falls into the very broad catagory of don’t know/don’t care. But here’s a blog post on it anyway.

Lucy Minogue “Snow White” Rowland informs me that the Belmont Stakes trophy was commissioned by August Belmont Jr. in 1896 for his father, August Belmont, after the opening of the racetrack named in his honor. The trophy partakes of the ornate style of sporting trophies of the Victorian period. The winner doesn’t get to keep it but gets a silver tray. The top makers were Tiffany and Gorham – the latter headquartered in Providence. The Triple Crown trophy was produced by Cartier in the style of its own period, such as it was.

Anyhow, the New York Times now has run a piece (updated), “An Elusive Trophy, Gleaming Through the Smudges of Hands and Lips,” about the Triple Crown trophy. “It’s like a little orphan looking for a home,” says its overseer, Darren Rogers, an official of the Kentucky Derby, where it is normally stored. He would have been in charge of taking it home, yet again, if American Pharoah had not won today. And, he says, it would not do for it to be left alone on the podium after another winner had walked away with the more elegant Belmont statuary.

No, not this time. All’s well that ends well.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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