In the span of just under two years, this California bred colt went from a humble pedigree to accomplished champion.
He won several graded stakes, an Eclipse Award, multiple California Thoroughbred Breeders Association (CTBA) honors, and a Triple Crown race.
But to those who watched Snow Chief in the middle part of the 1980s, they saw a blue collar horse who gained popularity thanks to his versatility in running style and ability to perform well sprinting and routing. The fact he was from the Golden State added to his legend, and Snow Chief created for himself a lasting legacy in the annals of California horse racing.
Owned by Carl Grinstead and Ben Rochelle, Snow Chief was the son of Reflected Glory, a longtime California stallion, and Miss Snowflake. After he was sent to Agua Caliente in Mexico for his racing education, Snow Chief was sent to the barn of veteran trainer Mel Stute, who had long been successful with claiming horses in his forty years on the circuit and trained stakes winners Double Discount and Telly's Pop. The partnership would be one of California's greatest.
As a juvenile, Snow Chief was a debut winner, and later added some stakes wins and placings to his resume during the 1985 season. Among his triumphs were the Grade I Norfolk and BJ Ridder Stakes during Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, along with an electrifying first place run in the Grade I Hollywood Futurity, which stamped him as a horse to watch on the Kentucky Derby trail in 1986. He also placed in the Del Mar Futurity, which marked the first time Snow Chief was ridden by Alex Solis. The young rider, who had moved to California after a successful stint in Florida, would go on to ride the colt in most of his races from that point forward, creating one of the great horse/jockey duos in Caifornia racing history.
Overall, Snow Chief earned more than $900,000 as a two year old, and that was just the start.
During the winter and spring of 1986, Stute guided Snow Chief to a sweep of his Kentucky Derby prep races. It began with the California Breeders' Champion Stakes, and included the Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows, the Grade I Florida Derby, and Grade I Santa Anita Derby. Made the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, Snow Chief finished a surprising eleventh, but was far from done. He rebounded with a stirring victory in the Preakness Stakes, and followed that up with a triumph less than two weeks later in the Grade I Jersey Derby at Garden State Park, which gave him the 1 1/4 mile victory the connections were seeking in the Kentucky Derby.
After a second in the Silver Screen Handicap at Hollywood Park in July, Snow Chief was sent to the sidelines due to a bone chip in one of his knees. He returned at the end of the year for the Malibu, finishing second to rival Ferdinand. He finished out the year a winner, though, taking the Eclipse Award for Top Three Year Old of 1986. That made him the first California bred horse to win an Eclipse. The two would battle throughout the winter and spring at Santa Anita in 1987, culminating with a thrilling stretch run in the Grade I Charles H. Strub Stakes.
Snow Chief finished off the board in the Santa Anita Handicap, and came back to finish third in the Gulfstream Park Handicap before winning the Oaklawn Handicap while setting a track record at Oaklawn Park that still stands as of the spring of 2019.
Following a third in the Grade I Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park, a tendon injury was discovered, and Snow Chief was subsequently retired after 13 wins, 3 seconds, and 5 thirds in 24 career starts.
In the nearly two years he was in action, Snow Chief became the highest earning California bred horse of all time with more than $3 million from his races, and that was a record he would hold for several years. As of March 2019, he is still fifth on that list, and is one of only two horses to win three Cal-bred Horse of the Year awards. In 2011, he was inducted into the CTBA Hall of Fame.
Following his retirement, Snow Chief entered a new chapter of his life, becoming a stallion in his home state. He did not have the success in that job like he had in his racing days, but he was not a terrible sire, either. Multiple horses in his progeny went on to win races, including stakes, and they also demonstrated longevity on the racetrack, competing dozens of times.
Years after his retirement, Hollywood Park honored Snow Chief with a stakes race named in his honor. After Hollywood Park closed in 2013, the Snow Chief Stakes was moved to Santa Anita.
On Preakness Stakes Day, 2010, which was twenty-four years and a day after his triumph in the same race, Snow Chief passed away at the age of 27. For those who saw Snow Chief in action in the 1980s, they saw a horse who showed up to race.
He set an example of what can be achieved through hard work, and people loved him for his work ethic. More often than not, he did his job, and was admired for his toughness and talent. In the present day, he is still remembered fondly by those who were around in his era.
More than thirty years after his retirement, Snow Chief's accomplishments still reach throughout the sport, whether it is Arkansas, California, Florida, or Maryland. He shows up multiple times in the annals of racing history.
In his home state of California, Snow Chief is a legend, and that status will never diminish.