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

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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.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.

Judge grants Churchill Downs’ request for summary judgment to dismiss Bob Baffert’s lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has granted Churchill Downs’ motion for summary judgment that dismisses Bob Baffert’s claim the track breached due process by suspending the Hall of Fame trainer for two years.

Churchill Downs Inc. suspended Baffert in June 2021 after his now-deceased colt, Medina Spirit, failed a postrace drug test after crossing the finish line first in the 147th Kentucky Derby. The trainer’s request to lift the discipline was denied in February, keeping him out of the Derby for a second consecutive May.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings ruled in a 12-page opinion issued Wednesday that Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert did not devalue his Kentucky trainer’s license. It cited his purse winnings exceeding $1 million at Keeneland in Lexington and stated that his argument “amounts to a false analogy that distorts caselaw.”

Jennings denied CDI’s motion to stay discovery as moot.

The decision comes less than a week after Baffert-trained colt National Treasure won the Preakness in his first Triple Crown race in two years. His record eighth win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown came hours after another of his horses, Havnameltdown, was euthanized following an injury at Pimlico.

Churchill Downs said in a statement that it was pleased with the court’s favorable ruling as in Baffert’s other cases.

It added, “While he may choose to file baseless appeals, this completes the seemingly endless, arduous and unnecessary litigation proceedings instigated by Mr. Baffert.”

Baffert’s suspension is scheduled to end on June 2, but the track’s release noted its right to extend it “and will communicate our decision” at its conclusion.