Even the California loyalists weren't particularly enthusiastic about Snow Chief, the best of the local horses entered in the $1,172,000 Hollywood Futurity.
But after his runaway victory today, Snow Chief has to be considered one of the best horses of his generation. He made a powerful move on the turn and drew away to a 6 1/2-length victory in the world's richest race for 2-year-olds.
Snow Chief sped the mile in an impressive 1:34 1/5 over a track that wasn't as superfast as California tracks usually are reckoned to be. Electric Blue was second and Ferdinand was third. Family Style, the only filly in the field of nine and a 2-to-1 favorite carrying 118 pounds to the others' 121, never was in contention.
Snow Chief had won two stakes races at Santa Anita this fall, and he seemed to be marginally the best of the California-based juveniles. But when trainer Mel Stute decided to equip the colt with blinkers for this race, Snow Chief apparently was transformed.
He showed more speed than usual, sitting in striking distance on the far outside while the leaders blazed the first quarter-mile in 22 seconds and the half in :44 3/5.
Before the field reached the turn, Snow Chief rushed up five-wide on the turn, making a powerful move. At the moment, it seemed as if jockey Alex Solis was moving prematurely. He disposed of the pacesetters with ease, and awaited the late challenges of Family Style and Scat Dancer, the colt who had finished third in the Breeders' Cup.
But Snow Chief today moved into a class above the other 2-year-olds who had been considered among the leaders of their generation. He reached the six-furlong mark in 1:09, just one-fifth of a second off the track record for that distance, and never was threatened through the stretch.
Snow Chief is a colt without much Hollywood-style glamor. The product of a not-so-fashionable California pedigree, he was bred by his co-owner Carl Grinstead, a retired electrical engineer. Since making his career debut here in June, he had won four of eight starts and earned $346,140 -- but not a whole lot of acclaim.
Snow Chief, a supplemental entrant in the race at a cost of $50,000, took home $589,600 today. That made him close to a millionaire -- $935,740, to be precise -- and a genuine contender for next season's 3-year-old classics.
"He took the lead so soon. He was playing," said Solis, who urged Snow Chief to the wire. "I wanted to let him know it was time to run."
"I was surprised how at how easy he won it," said trainer Stute. "He sure moved nice, but I thought he moved a little soon.
"I looked back, I'll tell you, but I didn't see anybody running.
"It was as brave as it looked to put the blinkers on him," Stute said. "He worked in them . . . and wore them coming out of the gate in his last work."