May 20, 2010

Remembering ... Snow Chief

Snow Chief was a Classic winner and an American champion. The California bred, near black colt was a consistent and dominant star in 1985 through 1987. He was the all-time leading California bred earner until surpassed by Best Pal, and still is fourth behind only Tiznow, Best Pal and Lava Man. Snow Chief was bred by Carl Grinstead in the name of his Blue Diamond Ranch, and owned in partnership with retired vaudevillian, Ben Rochelle. Together the two gentleman in their seventies, were known as the Sunshine Boys, and they enjoyed every second of Snow Chief’s rise to prominence. Snow Chief was trained throughout his career by Mel Stute who had already been at the training game for forty years, and also was a beloved personality on the Southern Californian racing circuit.

Despite his modest breeding, it was clear that Snow Chief was destined to become a star early in his career. Most notably winning the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes by three lengths and the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity by more than six lengths as a juvenile. Left in his Hollywood Futurity wake that day, was next Spring‘s Kentucky Derby winner, Ferdinand. It was the beginning of a great rivalry and one that Snow Chief would get the better of more often than not. In the three-year, nine-race rivalry he defeated the champion Ferdinand six times in nine meetings. All told Snow Chief won five of nine starts at two, including four stakes wins.

Snow Chief began his three-year-old campaign much the same as he finished 1985, winning four straight stakes. He traveled from Southern California to Northern California, to Florida, and back again to Southern California in racking up stylish wins in the California Breeders' Champion, the El Camino Real Derby, the Florida Derby and finally a six length thrashing of his Santa Anita Derby foes. It was no wonder that Snow Chief was the hot 2-1 favorite in that year's Kentucky Derby. The Derby would not be his day, however. Snow Chief chased the sprinter fractions set by speedball Groovy and had nothing left for the demanding Derby stretch. He faded to finish in 11th place in the field of 16, while his previous whipping boy, Ferdinand, rallied strongly on the inside under Bill Shoemaker to snare the roses. It was a big disappointment to his connections, but they resisted the urge to take their colt back to their home base in California.

The gamble would pay off as two weeks later in Baltimore, Snow Chief exacted his revenge on his old rival with dominating performance in the Preakness. Under more reasonable fractions, Snow Chief took command and easily romped home by four lengths over the Derby winner. It was the first Classic win for any of his connections including his regular rider, Alex Solis. Snow Chief would get no rest after his biggest career win. He came back only nine days later to take the $1 million Jersey Derby at Garden State Park. It would be the only day I got to see him in person. Snow Chief led throughout that day to easily defeat the horse who had beat him out for the juvenile championship, Tasso. I remember thinking after seeing him up close, that he was sure to be that year's champion. After this taxing schedule over the first half of 1986, Snow Chief would only run two more times that year in which he was beaten by the speedy filly Melair in the Silver Screen and by rival Ferdinand in the Malibu. But, with his six stakes triumphs through Memorial Day, there was little doubt that Snow Chief would be a champion, and he was awarded the Eclipse Award as the best three-year-old colt of 1986.

Snow Chief had a shortened season at four which was ended in mid-season due to injury. Following a third place finish in the San Fernando Stakes, he won his biggest race as an older horse, when he outdueled Ferdinand to the wire and won the Charles H. Strub Stakes by a nose. His other major win in 1987 came in the Oaklawn Handicap, where Snow Chief ran the fastest 1 1/8 miles ever run at the Arkansas oval in 1:46 and 3/5. His final career start was a third place finish in the Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park. Despite defeating Ferdinand in three of their four match-ups as older horses, it was Ferdinand who would go on to be named Horse of the Year largely due to his exciting Breeders‘ Cup Classic win over Alysheba. Snow Chief retired with the impressive record of 24-13-3-5. He was a major stakes winner in each of his three seasons and amassed $3,383,210 in earnings. At stud, he sired a handful of stakes winners, but none that ever came close to the kind of superior racehorse that Snow Chief was.

Snow Chief died of an apparent heart attack on Preakness Saturday, which happened to be on the 24th anniversary of his ultra impressive win in the 1986 Preakness. The 27-year-old, black stallion stood at Eagle Oak Ranch near Paso Robles, California. He lived a long successful life. I remember you Snow Chief.


CiarĂ¡n said...

nice piece brian

william said...

i do remember snow chief...always was a favorite of mine..thanks brian