Parlo, Blind Luck, and the Delaware Handicap

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.

Delaware Handicap Day, 1955 (Delaware Historical Society)

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 and jockey Eric Guerin after winning the 1955 Delaware Handicap (Delaware Historical Society

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.


“…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

See all Colin’s Ghost posts about the Delaware Handicap

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!

Filed in Blind Luck,Delaware Handicap,Delaware Oaks,Delaware Park,Fillies and mares, races for,Parlo,thoroughbred racing history

2 Responses to “Parlo, Blind Luck, and the Delaware Handicap”

  1. ballyfager says:

    The first Delcap I saw was not too many years later. Quill, I think it was ’60 or’61. If memory serves, the rider was Bobby Ussery.

  2. T.J. Connick says:

    Thanks for introducing us to Parlo — what a revelation.

    Parlo made a big impression on turf writers and handicappers. She earned honors as co-winner of both 1954 and 1955 Handicap Female titles. In ’54 the Daily Racing Form named her their choice, while the voters of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations (TRA) named Lavender Hill. In 1955 she repeated when the TRA named her, but the Racing Form picked the three-year-old Misty Morn. Parlo toted serious weight in 1954, carrying 125 in a 7-length romp in the Firenze at Jamaica. The October 30 race rang down the curtain on her championship sophomore season. Weight assignments at four followed suit.

    A record-setting triumph came in the June 8, 1955 Top Flight Handicap, part of the Belmont Stakes undercard. Parlo carried top weight of 126 pounds to victory, establishing a new track record for Belmont’s 1-1/16th run from the chute. The time of 1:41 4/5 shaved a fifth of a second from Misty Morn’s 12-day-old record, made under 110 pounds on a track playing unusually fast.

    A week before the Top Flight, Parlo made her 4-year-old debut in the 7-furlong Golden Anniversary Handicap, where she was a game second to 17-1 shot Dispute. Parlo carried top weight of 125 pounds, spotting 11 to the 4-year-old winner. Very sharp while beaten 3/4 length on a track labeled fast, Harwood’s account in the Racing Form remarked on her fine performance while facing serious obstacles. The course was drying from a heavier state, and was thought to still be a bit heavy down on the rail, where Parlo was positioned throughout. Favorite Misty Morn finished sixth, but beaten only a 1 1/2 length while closing quite wide. In the field was 6-year-old Lavender Hill, assigned 117 pounds, bet to 31-1, and finishing ninth. Parlo did not look like something that hadn’t raced in seven months.

    Parlo’s dam, Fairy Palace (Pilate – Star Fairy), had illustrious siblings. Star Fairy threw a trio of remarkable runners for DuPont. Fairy Hill came home first in the 1937 Santa Anita Derby; Fairy Chant was back-to-back Beldame winner in 1940-1941, and like Parlo accomplished neat trick of championships at 3 and 4; and Fairy Manhurst scored in the 1943 Lawrence Realization.