LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — Although it’s called the “Run for the Roses,” the solid gold trophy that also comes with winning the Kentucky Derby is not a bad prize either.
For the first half-century of Derby races, a trophy was presented on and off. But since the 50th running of the Derby in 1924, Churchill Downs has handed a trophy to the owner of the winning horse.
If you’re from Kentucky, you probably know that Kroger crafts the roses that get draped on the winning horse of the Kentucky Derby, but do you know who makes the trophy?
Since 1975, the Rhode Island-based company S.R. Blackinton has been the maker.
“My father had acquired a company out of New York called the Elgin Company, and they were the makers of the Kentucky Derby trophy for Lemon and Sons,” said co-owner Susanne Blackinton-Juaire. “It’s stayed in the family ever since. So, it’s been about 47 years now.”
The Blackinton family wants to continue to keep the tradition alive, so they’re getting the next generation ready.
“It truly is a labor of love,” said Susanne’s daughter, Skyla Fogarty. “They’re not only talented, but they’re passionate. Their commitment to everything that they do is amazing to see. So, I’m happy I was able to never leave, and now I work with them as a sixth-generation silversmith in training.”
As you may have guessed, designing the trophy is never easy.
“The difficulty of spinning solid gold, the attention to detail that goes into every piece,” Skyla explained. “It’s not so easy just to have something so beautiful coming together. It takes hours and hours and hours of labor; literally seven days a week sometimes.”
The only thing that has changed in making the trophy for the Blackintons came in 1999 when it was decided to flip the horseshoe on the front 180 degrees. As racing superstition says, if the horseshoe is turned down, all the luck will run out.
Other than that, the process of making the trophy hasn’t varied, even as technology has evolved.
“We don’t cut any corners on it,” Susanne said. “Every detail, like we said, is a labor of love, and we want to make sure it’s perfect.”
“And very meticulous,” Skyla echoed. “I used to kind of laugh at her and be like, ‘Isn’t there any easier way to do this?’ But no, she’s still using some of the tools that her mentor used, going back years and years and years. And I think that’s really cool.”
“A lot of people are under the impression you just melt the gold down, pour it into a mold, and you have a trophy. It takes months and months of work and hours and labor,” Susanne followed.
The company makes much more than the Derby trophy: trophies for other leagues, jewelry—which is made of the gold that isn’t used in creating the various trophies the family designs, including the Derby trophy—and even glassware.
All of which benefits horse culture in the Bluegrass, despite being almost 900 miles away.
“A portion of all of our proceeds goes to the Permanently Disabled Jockey’s Fund, along with Old Friends at Cabin Creek and Old Friends here in Kentucky,” Susanne explained. “We all want to help each other out, lift each other up, and help those that are in need. And that’s really once we realized we had a nice platform to stand on, we wanted to give back.”
Although the hardest part of making the trophy is letting it go, seeing the joy it brings is well worth it.
“Well, in the jockey, they have that connection to the horse,” described Susanne. “I mean, they all do, but, I mean, they’re on it. They’re connected; you know, we have that connection with the trophy. It’s a labor of love. It’s our passion, our hands, to create something like that is just amazing. Then, to see them win it with their horse, it’s just pretty awesome.”
There have been a number of great moments on this wild roller coaster.
“Of the Derbys, I think one of the most special was after COVID,” Skyla said. “It was just a beautiful day. We had beautiful memories. We met a lot of people who actually knew my mom’s father, who had since passed. And we just felt a really special connection that year with him. I think that was one of the reasons that stood out the most.”
“Yeah, my dad passed away in December of 2020, so the ’21 Derby was really particularly special to me because it was my first Derby without him,” Susanne said. “We had never attended a Derby together, but I felt like he was there smiling down, maybe critiquing a little bit.”
To learn more about the Blackinton family, you can check out their website here.