They could have been very easy to overlook given the quantity of luminaries resting all around them, but a discerning visitor to the Calumet Farm cemetery in April made a point, at least for a few moments, to offer respects to two notable fillies interred in the lovely memorial garden.
Princess Turia and Our Mims come to mind this week of the Delaware Handicap (G1), the famed 1 1/4-mile test for fillies and mares which Songbird will be heavily favored to claim on Saturday. This year marks the 60th and 40th anniversaries of their respective wins in the Del ‘Cap, the only two editions of the race won by Calumet at Delaware Park (The stable’s May Day Eighty won the 1983 edition held at Saratoga).
Like her half-sisters, Hall of Fame champion Real Delight and Bubbley, Princess Turia won the Kentucky Oaks at three despite being what famed turf writer Charles Hatton called “a glorious cripple.” Writing in the the 1958 American Racing Manual, Hatton quoted trainer Jimmy Jones:
When she was a foal and a yearling, we did not think she would ever in the world stand training. Her forelegs are twisted and deformed, and she is flat-footed, placing severe stress on the ankles and tendons. It is only when the tracks are so soft and deep that trainers are reluctant to work a good horse over them that Princess Turia can be trained at all.
Princess Turia’s groom, Charles ‘Slow and Easy’ Martin concurred, telling Hatton: “Princess Turia has always been unsound. She was born that way. But she has a heart big as a Jackson County watermelon. She makes you like her.”
Broadcast locally on Wilmington television with a signal reaching from Baltimore to Philadelphia, as well as nationally on NBC radio, Princess Turia’s date with the Delaware Handicap was June 29, 1957. The 19-horse field ran for a gross purse of $164,625, equivalent to more than $1.43 million in 2017 dollars.
The 3.9-1 second choice as part of an entry with 125-pound highweight Amoret, Princess Turia carried 119 pounds and Bill Hartack following a narrow win in the $51,425 New Castle Stakes at Delaware a week earlier. She faced a field that included Bayou, recent winner of the Delaware Oaks and later to be named the champion three-year-old filly of the year, and her stablemate Levee, later renowned as the dam of Hall of Famer Shuvee. Former juvenile champion Nasrina was a pari-mutuel outsider in the field, while the 3.7-1 favorite was the speedy Pucker Up, with Bill Shoemaker in the irons.
The track was officially fast but, as Hatton noted, “a light shower made it damp on the surface, and suitable to the winner’s troublesome underpinning.” Hatton’s description of the race:
Soon after the start there were just Pucker Up, flashing along the rails in a lead which grew to six lengths midway the backstretch, Princess Turia tracking her following her like a shadow, patiently biding her time. Pucker Up looked like a Greek tragedy, fleeing before the Fates. Long before the field reached the end of the backstretch, the tremendous crowd [22,619], seized in a paroxysm of excitement mere words are inadequate to describe, knew that the issue was one of whether Princess Turia could negotiate the defeat of this rival. Pucker Up, making the most of her extreme early speed, was driving hard, the other coming on inexorably with long, smooth, fluent strides.
Inch by inch, Pucker Up’s advantage was dissipated as the sixteenth poles slipped past. At the distance, midway the stretch, the relentless Princess Turia had yoked her. Pucker Up fought back gallantly. It was a grim, head bobbing whip lashing struggle. They ran side by side to about the sixteenth pole. Pucker Up could no longer hold the Calumet mare, yielding slowly, her eyes walling in her desperate struggle, until in the last yards she was a squeezed sponge and Princess Turia won by a half-length going away.
Though she had won the battle, Princess Turia’s delicate constitution ensured she would lose the championship war with Pucker Up, who went on to be voted the year’s best older filly or mare following wins in the Beldame, Arlington Matron, and Washington Park Handicap, the latter against males.
Princess Turia’s legacy was assured a decade later when her son, Forward Pass, was elevated to first in the 1968 Kentucky Derby and also captured the Preakness, Florida Derby, Blue Grass, and American Derby that season. Princess Turia died in 1975 at age 22.
Our Mims holds the distinction of being the latest three-year-old to win the Delaware Handicap, and probably will be the last for some time to come. While eight of the first 40 Delaware Handicap winners were sophomores, it’s difficult to envision, in the current philosophical climate, any horseman running a capable three-year-old filly against older rivals over 1 1/4 miles in mid-July.
In Our Mims’ year, 1977, the Del ‘Cap conveniently fell on Labor Day weekend. Although she had run second in the Kentucky Oaks (G2), victories in the Fantasy (G2), Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), and Alabama (G1) had propelled the John Veitch trainee to the top of the divisional leaderboard, and a win at Delaware would cement championship honors.
Worth $108,900 (more than $438,000 in 2017 dollars), the Del ‘Cap was run on September 4 before a crowd of 12,997. A field of only five lined up, with Our Mims, carrying 117 pounds and Jorge Velasquez, the 8-5 favorite over Mississippi Mud, recent winner of the Matchmaker (G1) and the 124-pound highweight, who started at 17-10.
Last of the quintet and nearly 10 lengths behind Mississippi Mud after six furlongs, Our Mims began to advance around the far turn and reached contention approaching the quarter pole. Still two lengths behind with an eighth to go, Our Mims closed swiftly and edged her older rival by a nose in a time of 2:01 over a fast track. As was the case with Princess Turia, the Delaware Handicap proved to be the last stakes win for Our Mims.
The older half-sister to Hall of Fame colt Alydar and Grade 1 winner Sugar and Spice, Our Mims failed to produce a stakes winner, although her descendents included Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner Elmhurst and Grade 1 scorer Continuously.
Following Calumet’s bankruptcy in the early 1990s, Our Mims was sold for $190,000 at the Keeneland January sale. In 1999, she was donated to the ReRun Thoroughbred retirement program and spent her final years under the care of Jeanne Mirabito, who later founded the Our Mims Retirement Haven in Paris, Kentucky.
Our Mims was interred at Calumet following her death in 2003 at age 29.
In my current book, Bill Hartack: The Bittersweet Life of a Hall of Fame Jockey, Hartack’s success with Princess Turia is noted, along with his seismic breakup with Calumet Farm in 1958.