Speed. He simply had more of it than just about any other horse of my lifetime. Chinook Pass won 16 races in his career of 25 lifetime starts, and was thought by many as one of the fastest Thoroughbreds in racing history. Those who were lucky to have seen him in person invariably will tell you that no horse, past of present, could match his early speed. Hailing from the state of Washington, Chinook Pass was a threat to break a track record each and every time he stepped on to the racetrack. More than that, there was always a potential threat to see a world record go down when Chinook Pass hit the racetrack. Have I mentioned yet that this horse was fast? His blistering five furlong world record setting run in the Longacres Owners Handicap of 1982 of :55.20 for five furlongs, still stands today, nearly thirty years later.
Chinook Pass was a dark bay gelding named for the Washington State Route 410 mountain pass, and was a Washington horse through and through. Bred and owned by Ed Purvis of Hi Yu Stable, Chinook Pass achieved championship status despite being the offspring of relatively unknowns. His sire was Native Born, and he was out of the mare Yu Turn. While neither was a household name before Chinook Pass, or even after for that matter, they both carried strong bloodlines, with American greats, Native Dancer and Turn To, as their sires respectively.
His racing career began in June 1981 under the tutelage of local trainer Bud Klokstad, with a loss that should have been a win, as he was disqualified after an easy win in a maiden special weight race. Staying at the suburban Seattle track of Longacres, (which has since been replaced by Emerald Downs) Chinook Pass would rebound from this disappointment, despite minor leg ailments and problems breaking out of the starting gate to rattle off three straight fast wins. An easy victory in his second start was followed by his first try in stakes company. In only his third lifetime start, Chinook Pass would display the speed and the power that would be his trademark, as he knocked a second off the existing track record in a wire-to-wire victory in the 5 ½ furlong Washington Stallion Stakes. He would return two weeks later, to post another eye-catching score in the six furlong Stripling Stakes, also at Longacres. He finished the year with a poor performance in the Gottstein Futurity. In this race the question arose whether he could handle a distance, but in fairness, Chinook Pass was banged around in the gate, broke bad and came back from the race with minor injuries.
Chinook Pass would more than live up to the amazing promise he showed as a juvenile in his next two seasons of racing. At the age of three, Chinook Pass made thirteen starts, winning eight, finishing second three times and third, once. Chinook Pass was the first three-year-old to win the Washington State Governor's Handicap in 27 years. He also began to head south to bring his amazing speed to the top competition of California. He was ridden primarily by Hall of Famer Laffit Pincay at this time, and the legendary jockey remembers Chinook only in glowing terms. He calls him the fastest horse he ever rode, and feels that more records would have fallen had the gelding not learned to ease himself up late in races. Near the end of the year he won the Meteor Handicap at Hollywood Park in a time of :56 for five the furlongs on turf which equaled the American record. Proving that he could carry his speed no matter the surface.
As an older horse, and now trained by Laurie Anderson, new goals were presented to the champion. Chinook Pass was know for his early speed, not his ability to get a distance, so many wondered if the fleet Washington bred would be able to carry his speed over the eight furlongs of easily the most important race in the state. They need not have worried. In a race that many felt was the cap to his wonderful career, Chinook Pass made the 1983 edition of the prestigious Longacres Mile a forgone conclusion after the first few steps out of the starting gate. It was the crowning of Washington’s greatest horse winning their trademark race.
From there, he was readied to head to New York to clinch the Eclipse Award by taking on the best of the Eastern sprinters, but those plans never materialized due to a cracked splint bone and worsening tendon problems. With offers of million-dollar match races out there and the first-ever Breeders’ Cup world championships nearing, Chinook Pass was retired. Chinook Pass was the Eclipse Award winning sprinter of 1983, the only in his state’s history, as well as collecting every possible award in Washington State over his three-year career. He set records on dirt and turf, and he was able to carry his greatness from the small pond of Longacres to the big time at Santa Anita racetrack in Southern California. Washington State named him their horse of the decade seventeen years after his retirement.
Speed may have been Chinook Pass’s enormous calling card, but he was able to enjoy a long and comfortable life. Living to the age of 31 years old, Chinook Pass was well taken care of his until his passing less than two weeks ago. Rightly so, a champion was treated like a champion. At the time of his passing, he was the oldest surviving Eclipse Award winner. Chinook Pass was living proof that you could live fast and still live long. I remember you Chinook Pass.