No stable ever dominated racing like Calumet Farm did in the 1940‘s and into the 1950‘s. Seeing the famed crimson red silks dash to the wire, winning important stakes was a common occurrence over that time period. While their success could never keep up the pace of those dynasty years, the storied farm had a major resurgence in the late 70’s. With trainer John Veitch at the helm, Calumet homebreds Our Mims and Before Dawn took home Eclipse Awards in 1977 and 1981, but their brightest stars of that time were undoubtedly Alydar and an iron filly named Davona Dale. While Alydar was bested by the huge heart of Affirmed in the 1978 Triple Crown, Davona Dale ruled the roost of the three-year-old filly division of 1979.
With Calumet bloodlines in every corner of her pedigree, the daughter of Best Turn made her two-year-old debut a winning one in a maiden special weight at Belmont Park late in the Fall of 1978. From there she would go on an odyssey of stakes races that will forever place her on the map of who’s who of outstanding fillies. In a nine-and-a-half month span beginning with the Holly Stakes on November 30, Davona Dale would run in a total of 14 stakes races. These stakes races would cover distances from 6 furlongs to 12 furlongs, on both fast and sloppy tracks. They would cover nine racetracks in seven states and encompassed the Triple Tiara and the unofficial Triple Tiara. She would race against fillies and the boys, and more often than not, Davona Dale would end up in the winner’s circle. After winning the Holly, to complete her juvenile season perfect in two starts, she was sent to Florida where her arduous sophomore campaign would begin almost immediately.
Thrown to the wolves in only her third start, she would finish 4th against a field of 11 colts going two-turns in the Tropical Park Derby. Next out she would face the speedy juvenile Eclipse winner, Candy Éclair, back down at the 6 furlong distance in the Shirley Jones. Davona would run second that day, as the juvenile co-champ zipped home 1 ¾ lengths clear in 1:08 and change. To many her first two races of her three-year-old season seemed way too tough after such a limited juvenile campaign. They need not have worried though, as Davona Dale proved to be as hickory as they come.
She quickly gained revenge over Candy Éclair, defeating her in the 7 furlong Bonnie Miss. Saying goodbye to her South Florida Winter home, Davona Dale hit the road in grand style. She danced her way to a seven length romp in Fair Ground’s Debutant Stakes in New Orleans. Then in Arkansas, she recovered from an early stumble to easily account for the Fantasy Stakes. Davona headed north to Louisville now on an impressive three race winning streak. While most of the world was watching Spectacular Bid take home the first leg of the Triple Crown, Davona Dale quietly romped home in the Kentucky Oaks. Under her only career rider, Jorge Velazquez, the attractive bay miss won the prestigious race by 4 ½ lengths as the 2-5 favorite. No one was comparing her to Spectacular Bid just yet, but the best filly in the nation was starting to gain major attention.
Like Bid, she headed to Baltimore next. The Black-Eyed Susan was as easy for her as her fans expected. Winning by more than four lengths at 1-10, Davona Dale’s streak was now at five and counting. On to New York, where a win in the Acorn would complete a sweep in the unofficial Triple Tiara which follows the path of the male Triple Crown. Unlike Spectacular Bid, she would not get the three weeks between races. Only eight days after the win at Pimlico, Davona came back to dominate in the Acorn Stakes. The unofficial tiara was a remarkable feat, but this super filly was not about to rest on her laurels. One day after Coastal shocked Bid to prevent the Triple Crown, Davona Dale may have run her most impressive race.
In the Mother Goose, she would defeat the same fillies as she had taken care of in the Acorn, with Eloquent running 2nd and Plankton 3rd in both races. The 2 ¼ length margin of the Acorn now paled in comparison to the 10 length tour-de-force in the Mother Goose. It was Davona Dale’s seventh straight stakes win in little more than three months. While the racing world was disappointed by the lack of a Triple Crown winner, the Calumet filly had become a bona fide star. After this long and difficult journey, while still in the first half of 1979, her most taxing race was only a few weeks away. The Coaching Club Oaks was the female version of the Belmont in those days. A 12 furlong marathon meant to stamp a filly as a true champion. For this then ten-year-old boy, it afforded me my first opportunity to see her up close. I was thrilled with what I saw.
Davona Dale made short work of her four overmatched opponents. She had done what Spectacular Bid could not. In her eighth consecutive victory, Davona cantered home best by eight lengths. There was even talk that she was the best sophomore of either gender at the time. In winning the Coaching Club, she became the only filly in history to win both the official Triple Tiara at Belmont Park, and the unofficial Triple Tiara of Louisville, Baltimore, and New York. A feat that may never be duplicated. Unfortunately, the amazing schedule, culminating with the mile and a half test, seemed to finally take a toll on the amazing filly.
She ran well in the Alabama, but never could get by the top Californian filly, It’s in the Air. Still stretching the endurance limits of their star, her connections next entered her against colts again in the Travers Stakes. Showing ultimate respect for the iron filly, the Saratoga crowd made her the favorite against the boys in the historic race. Looking like an understandably tired filly, she flailed home a well beaten fourth in the slop, as Saratoga loving General Assembly set a track record. One more race in the season would come less than four weeks later, and she was again beaten, this time by older fillies in the Maskette. It was a shame to see Davona Dale fall short in her final three races, but it did little to diminish her amazing season of durability and excellence.
At age four, Davona Dale was besieged by ankle and tendon injuries, limiting her to only three races in the Summer of 1980. She strutted her stuff one last time and was able to beat top mares Misty Gallore and It’s in the Air in the Ballerina Handicap in her second start of the year. Her final career race came in the Grade 1 Maskette where the New York fans made her the favorite over the marvelous three-year-old fillies, Genuine Risk and Bold n’ Determined. She weakened that day to 4th, and with her physical issues, it was time to call it a career. Davona was retired to the place of her birth, Calumet Farm.
In all, Davona Dale won 11 of 18 races, but it was that eight race win streak that set her apart. Her sophomore season was a throwback to durable champions of yesteryear. She danced every dance and she accomplished what no other horse, before or since, has been able to do. Somewhat overshadowed by the more glamorous fillies of the past 40 years, no list of great distaff performers would be complete without inclusion of the Calumet great. She was a champion and a Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest fillies I ever saw. I remember you Davona Dale.