When the Breeders’ Cup is over and the Keeneland November sale is in full swing, another annual event celebrating exceptional equines is on the horizon—the Sporting Art Auction. Now in its eighth year, the auction is a highly anticipated event offering paintings and sculpture in the sporting art genre by American and British artists. This year’s auction will be presented in partnership by the Keeneland Association and Cross Gate Gallery of Lexington, Kentucky on Sunday, November 22nd.
Regularly represented in the consignments each year are works by leading contemporary horse painters such as Richard Stone Reeves and LeRoy Neiman, twentieth-century equine artists Sir Alfred Munnings and Henry Stull, and the preeminent antebellum animal painter Edward Troye. The auction also features paintings of Keeneland and other racing scenes by Peter Howell, this year’s official artist for the Breeders’ Cup, as well as the amusing race track cartoons of Pierre Bellocq, a.k.a “Peb.”
Two pieces of interest in this year’s auction depict the 1894 and 1902 editions of the Futurity Stakes at Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay race track—Sheepshead was one of several courses established by investor Leonard Jerome, a founder of Saratoga’s track and the Jerome Park course in the Bronx. As it’s been noted that few artworks remain that capture horse racing at historic Sheepshead Bay, the inclusion of not one, but two paintings of this race for 2-year-olds at this track that are dated within an eight-year period makes these consignments particularly remarkable.
The first is Gean Smith’s portrait of the 1894 Futurity (The Futurity 1894, Sheepshead Bay, The Butterflies, H. Griffin-Up), won by The Butterflies, the first winning filly in the race’s history and one of only twelve fillies to win it to date since the race’s inception in 1888. The “Queen of the 2-year-olds” beat the colt Brandywine by a neck in addition to 15 other horses while also breaking the Futurity record time by 1 1/5 seconds. See the painting (lot #31) and related information in the online catalogue here.
The second piece is Henry Stull’s Savable, Winner of the Futurity and Lord of the Vale, Second (lot #27), a painting of the 1902 race that drew an enormous field of 24 juveniles and an estimated 40,000 spectators. In Stull’s rendering, the Western invader Savable from Chicago passes second-place finisher Lord of the Vale, a colt owned by the future builder of Belmont Park, August Belmont, Jr. The Futurity was briefly contested for three years over the Saratoga track in the early 1900s and was run at Aqueduct four times, and it continues today at Belmont Park.
The 2020 auction has been impacted by COVID-19 and in-person attendance at the Keeneland Sales Pavilion will be restricted, with the event being conducted entirely as a virtual auction—bidding will occur via phone, absentee bid, or online. Keeneland’s auction proceeds benefit its non-profit institutions, such as the Keeneland Library Foundation’s research repository for the sport. This year during the pandemic, its charitable initiatives have expanded to include support of local meal programs Nourish Lexington and Nourish the Backstretch for its Keeneland track community.
More information about the Sporting Art Auction can be found in the online catalogue.