The Outside Rail

Paget Bennett walked up the steps to my office Tuesday with sad news. I knew it already, but it still hurt. Steve Dance died. The Fasig-Tipton auctioneer, bid-spotter, unofficial historian, fairly official legend collapsed at home on his front porch while having coffee with his wife Nancy.

There are far worse ways to depart this earth, but damn. Steve, 78, was quite literally one of a kind and will be missed. I saw him last week after Fasig-Tipton’s 2-year-old sale ended at Timonium. As usual, I was cooling my heels waiting for Midlantic sales director Bennett to come over and talk about the sale. Also as usual, Steve was tired from two days of auctioneering. He smiled that smile, stood close and asked in that unmistakable voice of gravel mixed with honey how things were.

“How’s Joe?”

“I’m good. How’s Steve? What’s new?”

He leaned in and showed me something old instead. “I ever show you this?” It was a tiny piece of history – a Maryland Horse breeders Association pin from 1929 – on the lapel of Steve’s blue blazer. He’d found it among a lot of items in an estate sale his company, Steve Dance Auctions, was doing somewhere along the way. “We’re selling this separate,” he’d told his team. And then bought it himself. That was Steve, and so were so many other things.

I’ll miss the conversations at the end of sales, the stories, the “Remember when” stuff about the company and its history. Standing around at Timonium one year, he fished his gavel out of his jacket pocket. I had no idea auctioneers had their own, just figured they left it up their on the stand for the next guy. He laughed, told a story about it, put it back. Like getting a look at Aaron’s bat. Imagine the items that gavel sold.

Another time, in the midst of a sale but during a break for Steve, he saw me comparing my catalog scribblings to the posted sales results. “I’m trying to figure out when it’s not a real sale, when the horse didn’t meet the reserve,” I told him. “Keep listening, real close, you’ll figure it out.” I did, and think of him every time I come to that conclusion.

Steve and Nancy worked the stable gate at the My Lady’s Manor Races every year – checking credentials, answering questions, handing out programs. Nobody really needed credentials because everybody knew Steve and Steve knew everybody. The bigger challenge was cutting short a story while Steve leaned in your car window to say hello. I saw them there this year – after the Manor was canceled in 2020 – and it felt like the world spun a little more evenly for a bit. Call it much-needed familiarity. He and Nancy laughed at me when I went for a run on the course at the end of the day, and I laughed back and told them it was how I got through the pandemic.

A couple years ago, he tipped me on some racing memorabilia in an estate sale at Timonium. I took a break from covering the horse sale and went to have a look. In a warehouse full of everything from lawn tractors to champagne glasses there were a few tables and some wall space set aside for racing stuff. I found two I really liked and told Steve. I also told him I couldn’t attend the sale.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “You want them, I know. Let’s see what they go for, and I’ll keep you posted. I know how much you want to spend.”

I hadn't told him how much I wanted to spend. Days later, he called to tell me I got them – sending the pieces (a classic Joe Aitcheson photo I gave to Sean and a Paul Brown sketch I gave to my parents) and a totally affordable invoice to Fair Hill with Bennett.

Steve was a friend to my oldest sons, Ryan and Jack, who worked as Fasig-Tipton ushers at Saratoga. Steve ran a 5K with my wife Sam at Saratoga years ago, chatted with her the whole way.

When Bennett and I talked yesterday, she said she called Steve one of her “biggest cheerleaders.” He’d call her and say, “Pag, you know . . .” and then let her know what a good job she did or that she and the team handled something with grace and skill. Paget wasn’t alone. Steve was everybody’s biggest cheerleader.

He seemed to read everything I wrote and was a steadfast fan of and advertiser in our first publication Steeplechase Times. Later, he read The Saratoga Special like it mattered. He also frequently appeared in our Worth Repeating section of notable quotes.

Last year, Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga sale didn’t happen and The Special went to online distribution only. Stuck at home in Maryland instead of enjoying one of his favorite places, Steve joined the Readers Club and sent a $35 check and a note on a square STEVE DANCE AUCTIONS card – scribbled, blue ink, a mix of all caps and cursive.

Joe,

What a pleasure to
Read The “Special” each week.
You & your team are
Truly “Special.”

Steve

 So were you Steve, so were you.

• • •

Read Terence Collier's obituary about Steve here.

 

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