PARIS, KY (WAVE) - It was Barbaro's last victory. It was Tony Leonard's last Derby photo.
A bigger-than-life horse who energized the racing world. A bigger-than-life man who captured the most powerful athletes on earth.
In 2006, Barbaro broke down. Tony Leonard broke down, too. And when the man who took the last living picture of Secretariat left his heaven on earth, he left behind a secret treasure in his Lexington home that came within a photo finish of being thrown in a dumpster.
Tony Leonard's treasure is now locked in a bank vault in Paris, Kentucky, because his friend Bobby Shiflet took a genuine risk and made an unspectacular bid for Tony's dumpster-bound boxes.
"They said, 'Tell us what's important,'" Shiflet said. "I said, 'It's all important. It's the history of the thoroughbred business during its golden era.'
"This is like a black hole, when we first put it down here. It's terribly overwhelming."
Spilling out of the bank vault now is a gold rush where they're sifting through priceless pictures every day, plucking out valuable nuggets showing horse racing history. They're trying to inventory half a million images. They're only halfway through. And they're already displaying some at a Lexington museum.
"Seeing old stuff like this from Keeneland in the 50's, I had no idea they did that method of floating the track," said Kate Lossen, who is helping with the photo inventory.
I had no idea Triple Crown-winning jockey Steve Cauthen looked too young for prom, let alone Derby. Or that leisure suits looked so bad on the backside.
Keeneland in the 1970's still looked like the 20's. The only thing bigger than the arrival of Queen Elizabeth was the arrival of Secretariat.
Long before selfies, John Wayne, Richard Nixon and Joe Dimaggio didn't pose for pictures either. Legends like Forego were measured in high-tech ways.
Choosing between Swaps and Nashua side by side is impossible. And Cigar looked gassed during his legendary win streak. In fact, when you analyze Tony Leonard's treasure, you find the "Sport of Kings" most believe is so beautiful is really brutal in disguise.
"It's a tough biz," Kentucky Bank CEO Louis Prichard said. "Horses have to be tough. Owners, jockeys, breeders, physically tough,
or tough of mind."
Added Lossen: "It's unexplainable. This is an epic collection. Priceless. (Leonard) was at places nobody else was."
Now, Kate and Bobby are in a place nobody else is: a bank vault where they strike the gold every day. The only question now is what
to do with their winnings.