Dwight New has been stockpiling Secretariat items for more than 35 years and according to the legendary horse’s owner, Penny Chenery, it is the largest collection of Secretariat memorabilia she has ever seen.
So it only seemed fitting that New would have a part—however small—in Walt Disney’s upcoming major motion film, “Secretariat,” which is due to hit theaters later this year.
“It is nothing big; I’m just an extra, but it was still exciting,” said New, who wore the 1977 leisure suit he was married in for his small role in a New York City restaurant scene. “The scene was actually filmed in Lafayette, La. I was on vacation in Houston at the time and drove three hours to get down there. I got to go in the casting studio, and it was an honor just to be part of the film.”
It would be difficult to find a bigger Secretariat fan than New, 62, a retired draftsman who was at Churchill Downs in 1973 when the colt won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) en route to his historic Triple Crown triumph. A resident of Indianapolis, New has amassed more than 1,000 pieces of Secretariat memorabilia, including a horseshoe, grooming brush, and a lock of his mane given to him during a tour at Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky., the horse’s burial site.
“You could just tell there was something special about the horse, even before he won the Derby,” New said. “The atmosphere surrounding him that day was unbelievable. Of course, after he won and went on to win the Triple Crown like he did, he became my favorite horse. The next year I officially started my memorabilia collection.”
Though New’s collection centers around Secretariat, it includes much more than that—mainly anything that has to do with the Kentucky Derby. The massive gathering of pieces includes Derby tickets, programs, newspapers, posters, buttons, books, magazines, pennants, stamps, jewelry, plates, photographs, postcards, and his favorite item of all—mint julep glasses. The glasses, which bear the name and year of all the previous Derby winners, are sold every year with a new design.
“I started collecting the glasses when I went to my first Derby in 1972,” said New. “I’ve been to every Derby since, so I have all of them from that year on, but I had to buy all the ones before that. They started making them in 1938. I have all of them except the glasses from 1939 and 1940. They are selling those two on Ebay for anywhere from $6,000 to $12,000.
“I buy a lot of the memorabilia on Ebay now, but when I first started I would go to garage sales, flea markets, and places like that. I met Penny and Ron Turcotte several times, including last year at the Secretariat Festival in Paris, Ky.”
So just how big is New’s entire memorabilia collection?
“As of today, I have 6,511 pieces. I have it all recorded,” said New, who also is an avid collector of American Indian artifacts and NASA space items. “Each item I have is numbered with a description, where I got it, who I bought it from, and how much I paid for it. Luckily, we have a basement in our house where I can keep it all. We find room for it. My wife is pretty good about it; she puts up with it.”
When asked for a rough estimate of how much his collection is worth, New guessed somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000. But he’s not in it for the money.
“I just love collecting things and going to the Derby every year,” he said. “When people ask me why I love going so much, I always say, ‘I like to see all the pretty horses and the fast women.’”