05/17/2010 11:00PM

Snow Chief, 1986 champion, dies at age 27


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Snow Chief, 1986's champion 3-year-old and Preakness winner, has died at age 27, according to former Eagle Oak Ranch farm manager Joe Tevis.

Tevis said Tuesday that Snow Chief died of a heart attack on May 15, Preakness Day. He resided at Eagle Oak in Paso Robles, Calif.

The Reflected Glory horse won six Grade 1 races during his three-year career. In addition to the Preakness, he also took the 1985 Hollywood Futurity and Norfolk Stakes; the 1986 Florida Derby and Santa Anita Derby; and the 1987 Strub Stakes. He also won six other stakes, including the 1987 Oaklawn Handicap, in which he set a track record of 1:46.60 for the 1 1/8 miles.

Snow Chief, ridden by regular rider Alex Solis, was favored in the 1986 Kentucky Derby but withered at the top of the stretch after following close behind future sprint champion Groovy's hot early half in 45.20 seconds. Snow Chief finished 11 lengths behind the winner, Ferdinand.

Trainer Mel Stute and owners Ben Rochelle and Carl Grinstead had considered giving Snow Chief a break back in California after his Derby run, but Stute later decided the colt hadn't liked the track at Churchill and sent him on to Pimlico. This time, Snow Chief coasted past a tiring Groovy and beat Ferdinand by four lengths. Stute later called May 17, 1986, "the biggest day of my life."

"I'm glad we didn't decide to come home with our tail between our legs," Stute told racing writer Jim Murray afterwards.

Snow Chief skipped the Belmont Stakes after winning the Jersey Derby.

Snow Chief retired in 1987 after injuring a tendon in his left front leg. He was the sport's fourth-leading earner at the time with $3,383,210.

Rochelle, then 90, and his wife, Diane, moved Snow Chief to their Eagle Oak Ranch in 2001.

Snow Chief covered 22 mares in 2009, according to The Jockey Club. He was the sire of such stakes winners as Grade 2 winner College Town, multiple stakes winner Mimi's Cafe, and others from 20 racing-age crops. He had more than $5.6 million in progeny earnings at his death.