Collector's race memories are something to behold If it relates to the Preakness, he has it PREAKNESS '93 118TH PREAKNESS

May 15, 1993|By Ruth Sadler | Ruth Sadler,Staff Writer

Kevin McNelis will be easy to spot in the Preakness infield.

He'll be wearing a custom T-shirt with Preakness glasses and programs on it.

He's a Preakness collector extraordinaire and proud of it.

But that's pretty recent.

The Marriottsville resident attended his first Preakness in 1980 after being graduated from Virginia Tech. School obligations had kept him away, and he wanted to go "just for the fun and enjoyment of the Preakness."

He bought a glass, and that started the collection.

"For years, I just collected the glasses," McNelis says. "When I couldn't find any more glasses, I started getting into Preakness programs."

The first Preakness glasses were issued in 1973, and McNelis says they're among the hardest to find. But the 1973 glasses are the most valuable for trading because they're the first glasses and because that was the year Secretariat won the Triple Crown. It took him six years to complete a set. He says everyone in Baltimore must have a couple because they rarely turn up at flea markets.

He has used Preakness glasses to build his Preakness collection and to collect other Triple Crown material. He has swapped Preakness glasses for Kentucky Derby glasses and has all the Triple Crown glasses except for one Belmont glass.

Now he's consumed by the challenge of collecting programs and "anything authentic from the day of the Triple Crown or Triple Crown horses."

"There was never really a reason to collect programs," McNelis says. "It's tough to find them in good condition."

His favorite piece of Preakness memorabilia is a program from 1935, when Omaha won the Triple Crown.

McNelis says the one item he would like to own is a program from 1920, when Man o'War won after bypassing the Derby, or a program from 1919, when Sir Barton became the first Triple Crown winner.

He gets a lot of material from collectors in the Louisville, Ky., area and met one of the people he has traded with when he attended his first Derby last year.

"It seems like the Preakness is maybe a two-to-three-week thing around here," McNelis says. "In Louisville, they're into this all year long."

Besides his contacts in Kentucky, he has found other collectors through antiques publications.

Collecting Preakness memorabilia has turned McNelis into a Maryland racing fan. He loves the tradition and is fascinated by the history.

"The history of Maryland racing is . . . incredible," he says. "It goes back 250 years."

McNelis can recite the list of presidents who have been to the races here and points out that the Preakness was moved to New York from 1890 through 1908 when racing was banned in Maryland. Then there's the mystery that fascinates him and gives him a quest that goes beyond rare programs.

"I'd love to discover the three missing Preaknesses [there is no record of races from 1891 through 1893] and make it the longest-running race [in the country]," he says.

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