Jul 13th 2011 12:10 pm |
This weekend’s Delaware Handicap is shaping up to be the one of the biggest in the race’s long history. Blind Luck, last year’s Delaware Oaks winner and filly champion, will face off against her rival Havre de Grace, the current leader of the older mare division, in this year’s Del Cap. It will be the sixth match-up between the two and a rematch of last year’s exciting Delaware Oaks when Blind Luck caught the then unknown Havre de Grace at the wire.
To add even more intrigue to Saturday’s race, last year’s Delaware Handicap winner, Life at Ten, will return and attempt to become the sixth dual-winner of the Del Cap. It seems the glory days of filly and mare racing have returned to Delaware Park. It’s a fitting return to the track that brought the spotlight and big money purses to the female division back in the 1950s.
Blind Luck will be attempting to become only the fourth filly to win the Delaware Oaks and return the following year to win the Delaware Handicap. Plucky Maude did it first in 1944 and 1945. Kiss Me Kate (1951 and 1952) and Parlo (1954 and 1955) were the last to complete the double. The latter two, like Blind Luck, won division honors as champion three-year-olds at year’s end. Havre de Grace will try to become just the second filly to finish second in the Oaks and return to win the Del Cap (Busanda in 1950 and 1951).
The Delaware Oaks and Handicap have been a part of over thirty-five championship campaigns in their respective divisions since 1938. It’s possible we will see yet another champion grace the winner’s circle on Saturday afternoon at Delaware Park.
Parlo was the last to take the Delaware Oaks and Del Cap double in 1954 and 1955. She was owned by Foxcatcher Farms, the breeding and racing operation of William du Pont Jr. He was the prime mover in the building of Delaware Park in the 1930s and an influential racing figure up until his death in 1965. Parlo won the Delaware Oaks, the Alabama, and Beldame during her championship three-year-old season in 1955.
After winning the 1954 Delaware Oaks at odds of 22 to 1, she finished seventh in the Delaware Handicap as 3-year-old. By the time she returned to Delaware for the 1955 Delaware Handicap her career resume brought the high weight assignment of 128 pounds. The New York Times reported that she carried her “impost as though carrying a light package of mail,” while winning by three lengths and cashing a check of $99,900 for Foxcatcher Farms.
Parlo would win just once more from fourteen starts after the 1955 Del Cap. In spite of her inability to regain her winning form, she received high praise from the legendary Charlie Hatton in the pages of the Daily Racing Form about six months after she retired. Hatton, in recalling a discussion with Delaware Park vice president Bryan Field, was asked “politely” if he had a candidate for the top ten race mares of all-time. He responded:
We most certainly do — Willie du Pont Jr.’s Parlo. We covered races run by Gallorette, Twilight Tear, Top Flight, Busher, Princess Doreen, and Bewitch. And without naming names, we can think of a couple who did not go around carrying 128 pounds, contemptuously making big weight concessions, and winning at a mile and a quarter and a half. Parlo’s feet left something to be desired, which is why she was supposed to be partial to soft tracks, but if anybody thinks he can name a better mare of the past decade or so, we respectfully refer him to the chart of the Delaware Handicap of 1955. It is a cachet of a great ability that flickered like a thread of gold woven into a burlap bag throughout her career, elusive as it was shining, but there for all who looked to see.
It is hard to conceive of a mare who only won eight of thirty-four lifetime starts as one of the all-time greats but who are we to argue with Charlie Hatton.
Parlo passed on her royal European bloodline to a daughter named All Beautiful. All Beautiful did little to be remembered on the track but, she was named the 1969 broodmare of the year. That award was the result of a colt she foaled by Ribot who would become the great Arts and Letters. Arts and Letters won the 1969 Horse of the Year. Wins on his career resume included the Belmont, Travers, Woodward, Met Mile, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. He entered the Racing Hall of Fame in 1994.
The long term impact of the fillies and mares entered in this Saturday’s Delaware Handicap remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, this year’s Del Cap is further proof that the filly and mare division has, so far in the young century, been the most compelling division in the sport.
NEWS, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
“…Parlo Deserves Rank among Del’s Big Ten,” Daily Racing Form, 1957 June 25
For information about Parlo see Edward Bowen’s “Legacies of the Turf: A Century of Great Thoroughbred Breeders: Volume 2.”
Photographs are from the collection of the Delaware Historical Society
A colleague with a research interest in shipwrecks has a fascinating blog called Ships on the Shore. He recently featured a post about Moiffa, a shipwrecked New Zealand horse who went on to win the Grand National. Check it out!
I will be in the house for the Delaware Handicap on Saturday. Hope to see you there!
Thanks for reading and good luck!