Mel Stute, trainer of 1986 Preakness winner, dies at 93

Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Mel Stute, who trained Snow Chief to victory in the 1986 Preakness and the Eclipse Award as the nation’s best 3-year-old male, died Wednesday. He was 93.

He died at a rental home near Del Mar racetrack north of San Diego, where his son, Gary, is training at the summer meet. Gary Stute said his father had been bedridden since falling and injuring his knee last month. The family had gathered to mark his birthday four days ago.

Stute won 2,000 races in a career that began in the late 1940s and ended when he retired in 2011. He had career purse earnings of $55,653,244, according to Equibase, a racing database.

His peak came in the mid-’80s when California-bred Snow Chief won the 1986 Santa Anita Derby and Florida Derby. The colt finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby, but two weeks later won the Preakness under Alex Solis by four lengths over Derby winner Ferdinand, who was ridden by Hall of Famer Bill Shoemaker.

Stute’s run of success continued with fillies Brave Raj and Very Subtle. Brave Raj won the 1986 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita and earned an Eclipse Award as the nation’s best 2-year-old filly. Very Subtle beat male horses to win the 1987 BC Sprint at Hollywood Park.

Another of Stute’s top horses was Telly’s Pop. After breeding him, Stute sold him for $6,000 as a yearling to movie mogul Howard W. Koch and actor Telly Savalas, who named him for his father. Telly’s Pop won four stakes as a 2-year-old in 1975. He was regarded as a Kentucky Derby hopeful, but finished fifth as the favorite in the 1976 Santa Anita Derby and didn’t win again before being retired the following year.

Stute’s training expertise was shown best with inexpensive horses. He typically sought out horses that cost $25,000 to $30,000 and then tried to break even on them. Very Subtle cost $30,000 and she retired with career earnings of $1,608,360.

Gary Stute recalled that the most his father ever spent on a horse was $300,000 for Brave Raj, and that was the exception.

“For a guy that never spent much money on horses, he won an unbelievable amount of stakes for ordinary people,” Gary Stute said by phone. “He just had the greatest eye of anyone I had ever seen. My uncle Warren didn’t like to go to sales, so my dad picked out quite a few of his good horses, too.”

Born Melvin Frederick Stute on Aug. 8, 1927, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Stute’s family moved to Southern California in 1934, the same year Santa Anita opened. Mel and brother Warren began working on the backstretch, with Mel’s first job as a groom. He saddled his first winner, Egg Nog, in 1947 at Portland Meadows.

Warren Stute was a longtime trainer who gave Shoemaker a leg up in the jockey’s first $100,000 stakes win. Warren died on Aug. 9, 2007, at age 85 – a day after his brother’s birthday.

“He waited until the next day to die because he said he didn’t want to ruin Mel’s birthday,” Gary Stute said.

During his career, Stute was a fixture at Santa Anita’s Clockers’ Corner, where owners, trainers and jockeys gather to eat and talk during morning workouts. He spun stories about his best horses over the years and recalled some of his successful wagers. Gary Stute said his father hit a winning Pick 6 ticket at Saratoga a few days before he died.

“He loved going to the races, drinking and gambling, going to dinner with the owners,” Gary Stute said.

Besides his son, he is survived by his wife, Annabelle, daughters Jana and Gail, and six grandchildren. Stute and his wife would have been married 70 years on Aug. 21.

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
Getty Images

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

Getty Images

Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.