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BABE WAXPAK/SPORTS COLLECTIBLES: Proving it's real is the hardest part

by BABE WAXPAK on June 30, 2013 2:10 AM

Dear Babe: I was given a sign holder from a man who claims he lived on the ranch where Seabiscuit was stabled. The horseshoes are welded together coming off a piece of angle iron that attached to a structure. Is there any way they could possibly be Seabiscuit’s shoes? Also as mentioned earlier, the shoes are forged steel, not aluminum. They could be what you call “turn out” shoes worn when Seabiscuit was not in training or on the track.

— Ron Johnson, Walla Walla, Wash.

Lots of old-timers have great stories — many of which are true. However when it comes to identifying horseshoes as being worn by a particular thoroughbred — especially one that raced more than eight decades ago — the chances are Slim and None, and Slim just rode out of town.

You’d need irrefutable written documentation to stand even half of a chance of matching a racing plate (which is what horse racing folks call the shoes) to a particular horse. Someone who worked at a ranch or stable with a story isn’t going to make the grade when it comes to authentication. In this case, it looks like the plates have been cleaned up and possibly painted for the sign. Plus they’re welded together. All that clouds the origin — and the possible value.

In researching other questions about racing plates, Da Babe even asked about DNA, assuming someone could find some of Seabiscuit’s. Experts said the way the plates are applied to the hooves and then removed eliminates virtually any chance that DNA gets left behind.

To determine value, “there needs to be airtight provenance,” said Leila Dunbar, an appraisal expert.

Dunbar added: “In 2003, jockey George Woolf’s collection of Seabiscuit memorabilia went up on the block at IM Chait, a California auction house better known for Asian artifacts. Laura Hildebrand, the author of the book “Seabiscuit,” bought one of Seabiscuit’s horseshoes worn in his epic race when, ridden by Woolf, he beat the heavily favored War Admiral in the Pimlico Special, Nov. 1, 1938. She paid $15,275 for the horseshoe, mounted on a sterling silver ashtray. Given that this was sold at the height of the hype around the book and rediscovery of Seabiscuit, I think this would be the high end of the price spectrum. Most likely a Seabiscuit horseshoe with strong provenance today would carry an auction estimate of $8,000-$12,000.”

Of course, Dunbar was quoting a range for a race-worn shoe. The value drops for a training shoe and then goes down further for a shoe worn after his racing days were done.

Seabiscuit was the classic slow starter. He didn’t do much in 1935 and ’36 as a 2- and 3-year-old, but that all changed the next two years. Hitting his stride, he was first, second or third in 25 of 26 races, winning 17 in 1937 and ’38. As noted, his most famous race was against Triple Crown winner War Admiral in 1938. Seabiscuit upset War Admiral, winning by four lengths.

In the end, it looks like your sign holder will be a nice conversation piece at best.

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