Snow Chief, the 1986 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner and champion 3-year-old male, died Preakness Day of an apparent heart attack. The 27-year-old son of Reflected Glory out of the Snow Sporting mare Miss Snowflake stood at Eagle Oak Ranch near Paso Robles, Calif.
California-bred Snow Chief was a grade I winner all three years he raced and a California Horse of the Year and divisional champion all three years for owners Carl Grinstead and Ben Rochelle and trainer Mel Stute.
At 2, Snow Chief won the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) and Norfolk Stakes (gr. I). In addition to winning the Preakness at 3, he captured the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and Florida Derby (gr. I), and at 4, he took the Charles H. Strub Stakes (gr. I). He won six other stakes, three of which were graded, for a career total of a dozen added-money scores.
Snow Chief’s Preakness triumph came following a disappointing 11th-place finish as the 2-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), won by another California-based horse, Ferdinand.
Stute recalled that the day after the Derby, he had a Sunday flight back to California. First he wanted to check on Snow Chief’s legs back at the barn at Churchill Downs before he left. He arrived very early with a client, Dr. David Brown. The groom wasn’t awake yet so he handed the shank to Brown and began taking Snow Chief’s bandages off. The horse kept trying to bite Dr. Brown, and “out of the darkness” came trainer Charlie Whittingham, who trained Ferdinand.
“Gimme that,” Whittingham said as he held the horse. Stute continued to talk to Whittingham about how badly Snow Chief had run.
“Throw that race out,” Whittingham told him. “I ran a filly in the Oaks (Hidden Light) the other day, and she ran seventh. It was probably the racetrack. If you want to go in the Preakness, you go.”
In the Preakness, Snow Chief found the Pimlico track to his liking under regular jockey Alex Solis and beat Ferdinand by four lengths.
“I’m at the window cashing my tickets and here comes Charlie,” Stute said. “Charlie said, ‘Damn it, it’s my fault. I could have had a Triple Crown winner but talked you into running.’ ”
Snow Chief won the Jersey Derby (gr. II) shortly after the Preakness, but didn’t run in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) because his connections felt that the 1 1/2 miles of the longest Triple Crown race might too long for him. (Ferdinand did and finished third.) Snow Chief raced twice more that year without winning but had accomplished enough beforehand to be voted an Eclipse Award.
Snow Chief and Ferdinard also tested each other several times at 4 in 1987. Snow Chief beat him in the Strub, and in their next encounter, Ferdinand ran second and Snow Chief fifth in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), won by Broad Brush.
Snow Chief raced just three more times after the Big ’Cap, winning the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. I) in track-record time, prior to being retired. He exited with 13 wins from 24 races and earnings of $3,383,210.
“Snow Chief was the most durable horse I have ever trained,” Stute said. “He could run in the mud, he could run on the dirt--he was something special.”
In 1988, Snow Chief entered stud at Mira Loma Thoroughbred Farm in California. He stood at other farms before landing at Eagle Oak.. He sired 21 stakes horses, including grade II winner College Town and eight other added-money winners.