Snow Chief, an obscurely bred colt who consistently outruns his pedigree, rushed down the stretch of the $500,000 Florida Derby today and into the forefront of the Kentucky Derby picture.
The bettors sent the son of Reflected Glory to the post as a 3-to-2 favorite, this product of a piffling $2,000 breeding, and he demolished the others in the 16-horse field with a front-end performance that got him home by 1 3/4 lengths.
The competition came from Badger Land, another Californian flown in for today's rich race, and Snow Chief beat him in the same manner he had previously on the West Coast. The second choice, Mogambo, finished a laboring third.
Heading into the final turn in the 1 1/8-mile race, Jorge Velasquez on Badger Land decided to challenge Snow Chief. As they rounded the turn, Badger Land threatened to seize the lead. He got within a head, maybe a nose, of it, when Alexis Solis on Snow Chief went to the whip and the race was over.
Five times through the stretch, Solis hit the favorite, who was conspicuous in his preposterous shining pink colors and blinkers, and at the finish he was drawing away. Mogambo, five lengths out of it, saved third place by a neck from Regal Dreamer.
Gulfstream Park had no lack of action at the betting windows. A record for a single race was posted when $850,000 was wagered on the contest. The early betting established the Mogambo-Glow entry as the favorite at 7 to 5, but in the later betting, Snow Chief took over.
The race was quickly Snow Chief-versus-Badger Land, who ran 1-2 for the first half mile. According to trainer Mel Stute, "I told Alexis not to get hung up on going wide on the first turn and get to the rail if you can." Solis seized the lead quickly and was in front at the first turn. Snow Chief's turned the first half in a leisurely 36 4/5, finished the mile in 1:38, not fast, and completed the race in 1:51 4/5, not great.
The co-owners of Snow Chief, Carl Grinstead and Ben Rochelle, are, respectively, a former small-time trainer and a onetime comedy dancer in Miami nightclubs with his wife. After the race, they said, "We think we should be the favorite for the Kentucky Derby."
What was co-owner Grinstead thinking when Badger Land went to Snow Chief in the middle of the last turn and moved to within a length of taking the lead? "At that time," said Grinstead, in the postrace news conference, "I was saying 'Please.' "
Solis had the last word in the postrace interviews. Of Snow Chief, he said, "He really run a nice race. Every time he hears a horse coming, he takes off."