This past week Sea Hero, the oldest living winner of the Kentucky Derby died of old age in Turkey.  He was 29 years old.

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Sea Hero.  Sketch by Lloyd Kelly in his book, Sea Hero 1993.  The gift of Lloyd Kelly, NSLM Rare Books Collection.

Sea Hero was bred in Virginia by Paul Mellon who had a long and successful career in horse racing on both sides of the Atlantic, but had so far been denied a win in the Kentucky Derby.  Sea Hero’s trainer, Mack Miller, was a member of the hall of fame but he too had yet to have a Kentucky Derby winner.  That would change for both men in May 1993.

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Jockey Jerry Bailey hoisted the trophy with trainer MacKenzie “Mack” Miller, left, and owner Paul Mellon after Sea Hero won the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 1993. ASSOCIATED PRESS.  From the Lexington Herald Leader

Although Sea Hero had put up some excellent performances, his record did not make him a favorite in the run for the roses.  He was 9th in a field of 19 with odds of 12.90-1.  Watch video of the race here.  Late in the race jockey Jerry Bailey makes an exciting move and Sea Hero dashes through a gap on the inside and charges down the rail for the win.  Sea Hero did not manage to repeat his performance in the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes but he had one last flash of glory later that summer, winning the Travers Stakes.  It had been 51 years since a Kentucky Derby winner had done so.  After the 1994 season he was retired to stud with a career record of 6-3-4 in 24 starts and earnings of $2,929,869.

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Mack Miller, Paul Mellon, and Sea Hero winning the 1993 Travers Stakes.  Image from the Blood-Horse article on the race in the August 28, 1993 issue.  NSLM periodicals collection.

His stud career began in 1995 at Lane’s End in Versailles, Kentucky, but didn’t fully develop until after he was purchased by the Turkey Jockey Club and relocated to Karacabey Pension Stud in 2000 where he stood at stud until being pensioned out in 2015.  According to Blood-Horse his lifetime progeny earnings worldwide total $19,165,928.

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Sea Hero statue in the boxwood garden at NSLM.

Sea Hero has been immortalized in two statues.  One at the Saratoga Race Course, and one right here at the National Sporting Library and Museum, just down the road from Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stables.  Our Sea Hero resides in the boxwood garden between the Museum and Library and is sometimes called upon to assist with educational programming.

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Children’s workshop at NSLM.

Here he is surrounded by children learning about proportion.  If you’d like to view our statue or learn more about the Kentucky Derby and the horses and personalities that make it the most glamorous of American horse races, come and visit the Library.


SONY DSCErica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

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Twenty-two years ago, longshot Thoroughbred Sea Hero gave owner Paul Mellon (1907-1999) his first Kentucky Derby victory. It was also the first Derby win for jockey Jerry Bailey and trainer MacKenzie Miller. With the victory, Mellon became the only owner to ever win the Kentucky Derby, the Epsom Derby, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Sea Hero went on to win the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga. He was retired to stud at age four. Today, Sea Hero is the oldest living winner of the Kentucky Derby.

Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze sculpture of Sea Hero at the NSLM.
Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze sculpture of Sea Hero at the NSLM.

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Paul Mellon commissioned British sculptor Tessa Pullan to create a beautiful, three-quarter size bronze of the horse in 1995. Pullan is the same sculptor who created the Civil War Horse at the entrance to the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) campus. The sculpture of Sea Hero came to NSLM in October 2014 via the bequest of Mr. Mellon. It stands atop an impressive stone base, weighs over two tons and measures eight feet tall. Now installed in the NSLM boxwood garden, Sea Hero has recently been cleaned and treated by conservator Andrew Baxter.

Sculpture expert Benjamin Gage and his team lower Sea Hero into place at NSLM.
Sculpture expert Benjamin Gage and his team lower Sea Hero into place at NSLM.

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There are only two weeks left until Hero in the Homestretch: The Sea Hero Symposium on Saturday, May 30th! We invite you to join us for a day of presentations on the art and conservation, the transport and installation, and the horse that was the inspiration for the newest sculpture at the NSLM. This event will delve into the science of fine art conservation, in particular Andrew Baxter’s years caring for a variety of Mr. Mellon’s sculptures. Benjamin Gage will discuss the challenges of moving large-scale sculptures, and racing historian Ed Bowen will detail the history and legacy of Sea Hero and Mellon’s Rokeby Stables.

Sea Hero after conservation.
Sea Hero after conservation.

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Last week, fine art conservator Andrew Baxter was here on site to treat our bronze sculpture of Sea Hero. Andrew specializes in sculpture conservation and has worked on metal and stone art objects at major institutions like the National Gallery of Art, the White House, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (and the NSLM!). He will be presenting at our upcoming program Hero in the Homestretch: The Sea Hero Symposium on May 30th. Here is a sneak peak at some of the trade secrets he will be sharing in his presentation.

The amazing thing about conservation is, it’s about art and science! This is one of the few times you will see this art historian get excited about math and chemistry!

So how do you go from this:

Barrel of the horse before treatment. Notice the green corrosion and "channels" created by rain water.
Barrel of the horse before treatment. Notice the green corrosion and streaks created by rain water.

To this?

Sea Hero after cleaning, treatment, new patina, and waxing.
Sea Hero after cleaning, treatment, wax, and polishing.

Not surprisingly, conserving an outdoor sculpture starts with the basics – getting it clean.

Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze with a special non-ionic detergent.
Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze with a special non-ionic detergent.

One of the many fun facts I learned last week: Orvus is a shampoo that many horse people are familiar with for cleaning up their equine friends. This same shampoo used to be widely utilized (and is still sometimes used) on bronze sculptures because of it’s non-corrosive nature. Andrew used a similar cleaning agent.

Next comes some more chemistry. The sculpture is treated with a solution which helps slow corrosion. Bronze metal is actually a combination of copper and tin. As most of us have seen, copper wants to turn green when it is out in the elements. While sometimes those green tints and weathered appearance can look beautiful, for bronze they are actually evidence of corrosion (think rust) which ultimately shortens the lifespan of the metal.

Sea Hero during treatment.
Sea Hero during treatment.

Our conservator then carefully applied layers of pigmented wax to protect the bronze and enhance the dark bay (brown-black) patina of the sculpture. Lots of polishing – and a perfectly warm and sunny day – resulted in the gleaming horse you see now in the boxwood garden.

Sea Hero after treatment.
Sea Hero after treatment.

If you want to learn more about how to care for sculptures, and see great images of some of the other beautiful pieces Andrew has worked on, don’t miss his presentation at the symposium! He’ll also be sharing some wonderful stories of his time working for the great philanthropist and art collector Paul Mellon. Also presenting will be Ben Gage – an expert sculpture handler who has installed some amazing large scale artwork. (He is also one of the most enthusiastic art professionals you will ever meet!) And if you’re curious to learn more about the celebrity model for our bronze, racing historian and author Ed Bowen will be speaking about Mellon’s Rokeby Stables and Sea Hero the horse. Sea Hero is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner and is currently living a life of luxury in Turkey. His 1993 Derby win was the first for owner Paul Mellon, trainer Mackenzie Miller and jockey Jerry Bailey.

Come join us to learn more about them all on May 30th! To read more and register, click here or call us: (540) 687-6542 x. 25