“I wish I could picture him crossing the finish line, but I can’t,” St. John, a Baltimore developer, said Friday.
Maybe clutching the trophy won by the celebrated colt will jar his memory.
Last month, at a New York auction, St. John purchased the prize won by Native Dancer 65 years ago — a replica of the iconic Woodlawn Vase — for $100,000. He has yet to receive the trophy but said it is returning to Baltimore to stay.
“I was prepared to go much higher,” he said of his winning bid. “I didn’t buy it just to sell it.”
A graduate of Mount Saint Joseph and the University of Maryland, St. John said he’s considering donating it to the Maryland Historical Society.
The original Woodlawn Vase, a sterling silver trophy made by Tiffany in 1860 and valued at about $4 million, is owned by the Maryland Jockey Club and displayed in the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Until 1953, that 34-inch, 30-pound vase was presented to the owner of the Preakness winner, who would return it the following year. But Native Dancer’s owner, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Jr., and his wife declined to take the trophy, so copies were made for each winner to keep. The trophy St. John bought was the first of those replicas.
Not coincidentally, he owns Rolling Ridge Farm, a 300-acre spread that was once part of Vanderbilt’s sprawling Sagamore Farm in Baltimore County. St. John resides in an 80-year-old manor house, where the Vanderbilts once lived.
He’s just a whinny away from the grave of Native Dancer, ranked No. 7 of the 100 top thoroughbreds of the 20th century by BloodHorse magazine.
“I grew up in Pimlico, at 4819 Resiterstown Road, and would walk to the race track,” St. John said. “My father and grandfather took me to the Preakness every year from the time I was three until I was 19. But it never crossed my mind that, one day, I would own this trophy.”
While both of his daughters are equestrians, St. John said he never took to riding show horses himself.
“Three steps into the ring, the horse kicked me off and I separated my shoulder,” he said. “I’d rather fly airplanes.”
Or embrace a piece of equine history, now so close to its roots at Sagamore, the farm owned by Kevin Plank, Under Armor CEO.
When his historic trophy arrives, St. John said, “I just might call Kevin to come see it.”