I recently received a heartfelt note from a fellow fan of horse racing regarding the status of the champion filly from the 1970’s, Davona Dale. My first reaction was that the filly I remember so well as a runner must have passed away by now, but just like the sender of the note, I could not recall any specifics of her death. Inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame back in 1985, Davona Dale was a foal of 1976 and a homebred of the powerful Calumet Farm. The dominant stable in the mid-twentieth century, Calumet enjoyed a resurgence in the late seventies, and Davona Dale, along with Alydar, was a big reason why. I happily decided to do some digging to find out more about whatever became of Davona Dale after her racing career ended in 1980.
To my surprise, I quickly found out why I was contacted with the question of her whereabouts in the first place. It seems like Davona Dale fell off the face of the earth sometime after becoming inducted into racing’s shrine of all-time greats. I know that she originally went to Calumet for her career as a broodmare, but then what? The information trail was limited to say the least, which was especially troubling to me considering the state of Calumet Farm less than ten years after her retirement.
I decided to dig a little deeper into the mystery and became enthralled all over again with the brilliance of her career. I was a big fan of hers, and still remember her first stakes win. It was the Holly Stakes at the racetrack closest to my childhood home, the Meadowlands, and came in her second lifetime start. The daughter of Best Turn had been an impressive first-out winner the month before at Belmont. The two easy wins represented her only races at a juvenile.
It was no big surprise to see this listed incorrectly on Wikipedia, saying that she had one win and one off-the-board finish in her two juvenile races, but I was disappointed to see the same error on the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame website. Hopefully this is not the case on her actual plaque in the Hall of Fame.
As a three-year-old Davona Dale got off to a slow start. Her young trainer, John Veitch was no shrinking violet, and entered his young star against a full field of good colts in the Tropical Park Derby. It was not only her first start as a sophomore but the 8 ½ furlong test was also her first try in a race longer than six panels. Davona Dale faded to 4th in the field of 12, and then came back to test one of the co-champion two-year-old fillies of 1978 in her next start. Despite dropping back to six furlongs against the speedy Candy Eclair, Davona Dale ran big and gained on the champion the entire stretch, falling less than two lengths short at the wire. Those two losses which dropped her record to 2 out of 4, would be her only defeats for some time.
In the next 4 ½ months, the Calumet star would travel to six racetracks, in six different states, and rack up eight consecutive stakes wins. After gaining revenge on Candy Eclair in a blistering seven furlongs in the Bonnie Miss, Davona Dale would find little resistance in victories in the Debutante, Fantasy, Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, Acorn, and Mother Goose. By the time she reached the Coaching Club Oaks, her fame rivaled that of the spectacular colt named Bid, who had recently been shocked in his Triple Crown quest. The same would not beset Davona Dale though, as she romped home an 8-length winner to become the fifth ever filly to sweep the Triple Tiara.
That is how I remember Davona Dale, a champion through and through. Veitch kept asking for more though, and she was upset in both the Alabama (2nd) and Travers (4th) at Saratoga, but still was voted the overwhelming champion three-year-old filly of 1979.
It took a while to get her back to the races as an older filly, and she could only manage a sharp win in the Ballerina in three races as a four-year-old. She ended her career by finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Maskette at Belmont Park. She was probably never the same after that amazing eight-race streak in the first half of 1979, but she was still so well regarded in her 18th and final career start, that she was made a 6-5 favorite against a pair of magnificent three-year-old fillies in Genuine Risk and Bold ‘n Determined. I was in attendance that day for her final career start, and now I know little about her life since.
From my initial research, it seems safe to assume that she was indeed sent from Calumet to Coolmore in Ireland at some point in her broodmare career. After that, I’m not sure. I’ve read passing comments that she passed away in 1997, but I’ve also seen things that suggest that she was still alive in the middle of the last decade. The Jockey Club has no information on her death.
So now I leave it to you to help… When did Davona Dale die? Where was she at the time of her death? Where was she buried? Fans of this magnificent big bay mare deserve these answers. I sure know that I’d like to know.