Florida Derby : 15 Rivals Challenge Snow Chief Today at Gulfstream

Times Staff Writer

There is respect for Snow Chief, but no one yet has taken the 3-year-old colt's measurements for pedestal purposes.

When Snow Chief, already a racing millionaire, was entered Thursday in today's $500,000 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, the names of 15 other horses were also dropped into the box, giving the major Kentucky Derby prep its largest field since 15 rivals unsuccessfully chased Judger in 1974.

Mel Stute, who trains Snow Chief for owners Carl Grinstead of Chula Vista and Ben Rochelle of Beverly Hills, was slightly surprised at the turnout.

Most unexpected of the Florida Derby contestants was Papal Power, who ran third as the favorite in a division of the Fountain of Youth Stakes here Feb. 17 after his trainer, Charlie Peoples, thought the track veterinarian should have scratched the colt because of problems during his pre-race warmup.

"I didn't think there'd be this many horses running," Stute said. "One I definitely didn't expect was Badger Land, because we had beaten him back home. But the money is big, and we felt that in order to get the horse ready for the Kentucky Derby, he's got to get used to different race tracks, and that's why we're here."

Badger Land has finished behind Snow Chief all three times they have run together, twice in races Snow Chief won. Most recently, trainer Wayne Lukas' colt finished second, 2 1/2 lengths back, in the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows. To run in the Florida Derby, co-owners Mel Hatley and Jeff Lukas, who is the trainer's son, had to supplement Badger Land for $12,500.

Not only does Snow Chief have numbers to contend with, the California-bred son of Reflected Glory and Miss Snowflake will also break from the No. 13 post position.

Newk Green, who trains My Prince Charming, the winner against Papal Power in the split Fountain of Youth, doesn't think that the post position will matter in this 1 1/8-mile race. "All that more horses in the race means is that you've got more to beat," Green said.

Stute isn't so sure of that. "The rail is supposed to be faster here, so the outside might be a disadvantage," he said. "But I think our horse has got enough speed that he could take the lead if he had to. He's never been asked to, but the speed is there.

"I'll let Alex (Solis, Snow Chief's jockey) use his own judgment. I figure he needs the money as bad as I do."

In his final workout Friday, Snow Chief, with regular exercise rider Arturo Vilches aboard, worked three furlongs in either :34 3/5 or :35, depending on which of two watches you believed.

The Florida Derby field, in post-position order: Mogambo, with Angel Cordero riding; Wolark, Robin Platts; Regal Dreamer, Don MacBeth; Glow, Jerry Bailey; My Prince Charming, Jose Santos; Ensign Rhythm, Jacinto Vasquez; Sunny Prospector, Benny Green; Raja's Revenge, Robbie Davis; Strong Performance, Jean Cruguet; Mykawa, Herb McCauley; Mr. Classic, Gregg McCarron; Snow Chief, Alex Solis; Badger Land, Jorge Velasquez; Jig's Haven, Gene St. Leon; Papal Power, Randy Romero, and Dr. Dan Eyes, no jockey assigned.

Because Peter Brant owns Mogambo and has a minority interest in Glow, those two horses will be coupled in the betting. The pari-mutuel field horses--a bet on one is a bet on all--are Wolark, Sunny Prospector, Mr. Classic, Jig's Haven and Dr. Dan Eyes.

The Gulfstream Park linemaker has installed Snow Chief as the 2-1 favorite, followed by the Mogambo-Glow entry at 4-1 and My Prince Charming at 8-1. The track is expected to be fast, with no rain in the forecast and the temperature in the 70s.

There's the possibility that Mogambo might be scratched because of the large field. LeRoy Jolley, Mogambo's trainer, said recently that the Mr. Prospector colt wouldn't run if more than 14 horses were entered.

In the era of million-dollar yearlings, the Florida Derby winner very likely will strike a blow for the small-time horseman. Values on Mogambo and Mr. Classic, both sons of Mr. Prospector, can't be established because they were bred by their owners, and Glow, a son of Northern Dancer, also is raced by his breeder, Claiborne Farm.

But by and large, the other horses in the field could have been bought for fairly modest prices earlier in their careers. Grinstead said he was offered $50,000 for Snow Chief before the horse ever ran, told the potential buyer that he'd listen if the price were $100,000, and never got a reply.

Regal Dreamer, who was third behind Ensign Rhythm and Jig's Haven in the other division of the Fountain of Youth, was sold for $4,700--bought back, in fact, by his breeder after everybody else at the Kentucky auction had turned his back on the horse.

"When we put him in the sale, there was a little bidding, but not much," said Lexington breeder Tom Roach. "The bid got to $4,500, but it hung there. I raised my hand--two fingers, actually--in hopes of getting the price up. I figured at least somebody would go to $5,000.

"But nobody did, and I got stuck with him. I don't like to race horses we have to buy back, because we're in the commercial breeding business, but he's bailed us out, hasn't he?"

Regal Dreamer, whose sire was Architect, has earned $205,586, winning a stake at Canterbury Downs near Minneapolis last year and finishing fourth in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Aqueduct in November.

"He ran real big in the Breeders' Cup," Roach said. "If he runs like that Saturday, we'll be happy."

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