CHERRY HILL, N.J. — Snow Chief's canter to a two-length win in Monday's Jersey Derby was no surprise. But when Carl Grinstead, the co-owner of the 3-year-old California-bred colt, started talking after the race about running in the Belmont Stakes 12 days from now, that startled a number of people and didn't exactly please Mel Stute, who trains the horse.
Stute said after Snow Chief won the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 17 that the 1 1/2-mile Belmont on June 7 in New York would dull the colt's speed. He repeated that observation Monday at Garden State Park and added: "Personally, I would like to skip the Belmont. But if you put my horse with the right group of horses, he could run two miles."
Before the Jersey Derby, the only time Snow Chief had run as far as 1 miles was in the Kentucky Derby, in which he finished 11th as the 2-1 favorite.
On Monday, though, before 31,547 fans, Snow Chief didn't have a speedball like Groovy to contend with as he did at Churchill Downs. Unchallenged, Snow Chief galloped down the backstretch in casual fractions of :47 for a half-mile and 1:11 2/5 for six furlongs and was never seriously threatened by Mogambo or anyone else in the stretch run.
Mogambo, second almost all the way, got within a half-length of Snow Chief after a mile and was whipped repeatedly by his jockey, Jose Santos, through the stretch. Meantime, Alex Solis only touched Snow Chief once, and that was enough. Snow Chief beat Mogambo by two lengths and it was 1 1/2 lengths back to Tasso, the second betting choice who finished third in the 10-horse field after trailing by 10 1/2 lengths after six furlongs.
After the first three, the order of finish was Fobby Forbes, Bordeaux Bob, Ensign Rhythm, Miracle Wood, Dese Days, A Blend of Six and Haddon Hour. Royal Doulton, who had been entered in the Jersey Derby, ran instead on Sunday in Belmont Park's Peter Pan, finishing fifth.
Snow Chief, timed in 2:03 for the 1 miles, paid $3.20, $2.80 and $2.40. Mogambo returned $3.80 and $3. Tasso paid $2.80, A $2 exacta on Snow Chief and Mogambo was worth $11.
Rick Wilson, the jockey riding Ensign Rhythm, claimed a foul against Mogambo for interference on the far turn, but it was disallowed by the stewards.
Snow Chief's win was worth $600,000 to his owners, Grinstead of Chula Vista and Ben Rochelle of Beverly Hills, and increased the career total for the obscurely bred colt to $2,730,940. That moved him from 13th to 7th on the career money list. John Henry is No. 1 with $6.5 million, and Spectacular Bid is No. 6, about $50,000 ahead of Snow Chief.
Although the Jersey Derby was Snow Chief's third race in 24 days, Grinstead, whose contract with Rochelle permits him to call all the shots, gave strong indications that the Belmont would be the colt's next test.
"We won't make a decision until Wednesday," Grinstead said, "but if the horse is all right and shows no weight loss, that's where we'll run. I'd like to know if he can run a mile and a half. It wouldn't be for revenge (over Ferdinand, the Kentucky Derby winner who is Belmont-bound), but just for the satisfaction of winning two of the classics (the Preakness and the Belmont being the last two races in the Triple Crown)."
The Jersey Derby was certainly no more than a workout for Snow Chief. "Being able to run that slow pace was exactly what we wanted," Solis said. "The one time I hit him, at about the three-sixteenths pole, he started going, and I didn't have to hit him again, because I wouldn't want to kill him for nothing. The last sixteenth of a mile, I just gave him an easy hand ride."
So Pearl Grinstead, Carl's wife, wound up with a bouquet of Jersey Derby roses, after a garland of the same flowers escaped their horse at Churchill Downs.
"We lost considerable prestige when we didn't win the Kentucky Derby," Carl Grinstead said. "The more I've read about the Belmont, the more I think it's to our advantage to run in it. If we won the Belmont, I think the horse colony might think our horse is wonderful again."
Asked about Stute's attitude toward the Belmont, Grinstead said: "If we win the Belmont, give Mel all the credit. If we lose, I'll take all the blame."
A former trainer himself, Grinstead doesn't believe a continuation of Snow Chief's strenuous racing schedule would be detrimental.
"If there was any doubt in my mind about running in the Belmont, I wouldn't do it," Grinstead said. "I wouldn't jeopardize this horse for $10 million. The thing about this horse is that he will pull himself up if he gets tired."
Tasso, last year's champion 2-year-old colt who has won only one of five starts this year, once again injured a leg. He went into the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 19 with a leg cut and suffered more nicks while running fourth in that race.