Victory Racing Plate Company
By Starr Crusenberry
By now, most Americans have heard of the famous racehorse Seabiscuit, thanks to Laura Hillenbrand's popular book "Seabiscuit" and the subsequent film version of her book, starring Tobey Maguire.
But what a lot of people don't know is how this story is linked to Baltimore. Not only was the famous match race between Seabiscuit and Triple Crown winner War Admiral run at Pimlico Race Course, but the horseshoes that helped carry Seabiscuit to that historical victory were made in Baltimore at the Victory Racing Plate Company.
Racing plates are like horseshoes except they are made of aluminum, a much lighter material than metal, which traditional horseshoes are made of.
Racing plates were created in England and weren't used in the U.S. until the 1920s. Race horse owner and Baltimore businessman, Leonard Leipman saw what the British were doing with racing plates and set out to make his own improved version. Thus, Victory Racing Plate Company was born, and the rest was history.
"We made the shoes that Seabiscuit was wearing when he won at Pimlico. People are always amazed to hear that it was our shoes, and that we've actually been here that long," said Dave Erb, president of the Victory Racing Plate Company.
In fact, the Victory Racing Plate Company has a rich history in Baltimore, opening for business in 1929. Although the company continues to thrive today, it has seen many changes in the city over the past 75 years.
"The construction of [Interstate] 83 in 1971 caused us to move to our current location on Rosedale. We have seen so many businesses come and go but we have always remained a Baltimore-based operation, even when everyone was picking up and moving to Tokyo," said Erb.
Victory Racing Plate Company sells their already made racing plates to blacksmiths who then shape them to fit each individual horse. The advent of racing plates has made life much easier for blacksmiths because they no longer have to use very high heat to make and shape horseshoes or racing plates. Racing plates can be shaped at room temperature, no heat is required.
Perhaps what is most impressive about Victory (as the employees call it) is that although the company only employs a staff of about 40 people, the technology the company uses for making racing plates sets the industry standard. Victory distributes world-class products in 45 countries around the world. As a result, Victory racing plates are worn by more thoroughbred racehorses than any other brand.
"We have a lot of competitors who would like to get their hands on our technology," Lynn Kline, head of research and development said. "Our operation is very sophisticated and we produce the best the racing plate on the market. There's competition out there but they don't offer the same quality and durability we do."
If their customers are any indication, Victory certainly has a superior product. The world's most beloved Triple Crown winner, Secretariat, was wearing Victory racing plates in 1973 when he easily captured all three races. Omaha, the 1935 Triple Crown winner, was also wearing Victory racing plates in all three races.
The best runners in the country continue to use Victory racing plates today. "Smarty Jones, Funny Cide and Empire Maker are some of the more recent champions to wear our racing plates," Erb said.
At Pimlico trainers use Victory's plates on their better horses. "Most of the higher caliber allowance and stakes horses where Victory plates, they cost more than most brands, but they hold up the best, " said Arnold Hubert, owner of Pratt Saddlery, a distributor of racing plates.
Victory has made such a name for themselves in the racing industry, that anyone who has ever picked up the http://www.drf.com/ (the most important publication in racing) knows about their products.
Since Victory has the market cornered on racing plates for thoroughbreds, they have begun to branch out and make racing plates for horses competing off the track in sports such as steeplechasing and cross country jumping. "We found that racing plates could benefit horses competing in high-level jumping competitions. The extra weight of the traditional horseshoes they wear causes their legs to fatigue faster, so we began putting together the technology to make racing plates for these non-racing horses," Kline said.
Out of this technology, the Sport series of Victory racing plates was created. Ever the innovators, Victory Racing Plate Company now outfits many top-level competition jumpers with their new Sport racing plates.
Victory Racing Plate Company is still locally owned and operated in Baltimore with no foreseeable plans for a change of venue. "Baltimore has been a good place for us to do business. We could, theoretically, do what we do any where in the world, but Baltimore is home to us. We have been here for over 75 years, I can't see why we would want to move now," said Erb.