The cream of this year’s crop of 3-year-old Thoroughbreds has risen to the top once again as 366 members of that class have been nominated early for the 2010 renewals of America’s three classic races that comprise horse racing’s highly sought Triple Crown.
The first of the classics – the 136th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands – will be run May 1 at Louisville’s Churchill Downs, to be followed by the 135th Preakness Stakes on May 15 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and the 142nd Belmont Stakes on June 5 at New York’s Belmont Park. The early nomination period, at $600 per horse, closed Saturday, Jan. 16. A late period for nominations, at $6,000 each, will close on Saturday, March 27.
At the head of the 2010 class are American Eclipse Award 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky, owned by 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning owner Mike Pegram and partners Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, and 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Vale of York, who represents Godolphin Racing of Dubai. Lookin At Lucky is trained by Bob Baffert, a three-time winner of both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness who was ushered into racing’s Hall of Fame last summer. Vale of York is trained by Saeed bin Suroor for Godolphin’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, who has overseen the development of that massive racing operation into a worldwide racing powerhouse. Vale of York and Lookin At Lucky, just a head apart in their memorable 1-2 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, are joined on the roster of Triple Crown nominees by all the other runners from that race except the Irish-bred Alfred Nobel.
In addition, eight fillies, including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and Eclipse Award 2-year-old filly champion She Be Wild and multiple Grade I winner Blind Luck, who finished third in the Juvenile Fillies before winning the Hollywood Starlet, are nominated for the Triple Crown.
The 2010 early nomination total is down from the 401 3-year-olds initially made eligible for the three-race series in 2009. Eleven horses were added to the overall list during last year’s late nomination phase.
“Our nomination total is down a bit, but the 366 horses on the roster of nominees represent as deep a field of quality prospects as we’ve seen over the years,” said Donald R. Richardson, senior vice president, racing, for Churchill Downs Incorporated. “All the major players in the United States have come forward for these classics and have been joined by 17 representatives from abroad. The list includes eight of the top nine horses from the 2009 Experimental Free Handicap for 2-year-old males, along with the fillies that were considered the top two of their gender in 2009, so it’s clear that interest in this special series of classics that include the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes remains deep and widespread.”
Of the 17 overseas nominees, eight – led by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Vale of York and promising recent purchase Tahitian Warrior – are part of the ongoing bid by Godolphin Racing to capture the Kentucky Derby, one of the few major races in the world that has eluded Sheikh Mohammed. The rest of the overseas contingent hail from England and Ireland and include horses conditioned by trainers such as John Gosden, Aidan O’Brien, Dermot Weld and Jeremy Noseda.
After giving way to two-time Eclipse Award winner Steve Asmussen to end a six-year run as the trainer nominating the most horses to the Triple Crown, Todd Pletcher returns to that familiar spot this year with 20 nominees. Making a spectacular return to the big stage this year is Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who made a habit to be at the head of the list for nominations. Lukas’ presence among the major nominators has diminished in recent years, but he returned with a vengeance in 2010 with 19 nominations, which ranks second on the list. Lukas has won 13 Triple Crown races and is tied for the highest career total of Triple Crown wins with Hall of Fame trainer “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, who saddled a pair of Triple Crown winners in Gallant Fox and Omaha in 1930 and 1934, respectively.
Hall of Famers Nick Zito and Baffert, always among the top nominators, are prominent again this year. Zito has 15 on the list and Baffert 13. Joining them at the double-figure level are Southern California conditioners John Sadler, with 16 nominees, and Richard Mandella, another Hall of Fame trainer, with 11. Asmussen, the trainer of Preakness winners Curlin (2007) and Rachel Alexandra (2009) who led trainers in 2009 with 25 nominations, has nominated six horses to this year’s Triple Crown races. His Preakness winners have combined to earn Horse of the Year honors in each of the last three years.
Taking over the leadership at the top of the owner rankings is Thoroughbred Racing Legends, a partnership that has parceled its horses to Lukas, Zito and Baffert. The partnership is represented by 12 Thoroughbreds. Close behind is WinStar Farm with 10 early nominees. Spendthrift Farm of B. Wayne Hughes and the Gary and Mary West Stables join Godolphin with eight nominations. Zayat Stables, which led owners with 22 early nominees in 2009, nominated just two horses in the early phase this year.
Leading the sire list of nominees are Distorted Humor and Tiznow, each with 10. Following closely with nine are Unbridled’s Song and Maria’s Mon. Afleet Alex and Giant’s Causeway are, respectively, the sires of eight early nominees.
HORSES (BY Sex)
HORSES (By Color)
Dark Bay/Brown, 93
BIRTHPLACE OF NOMINATED HORSES (Inside United States)
New York, 12
BIRTHPLACE FOR NOMINATED HORSES (Outside United States)
Great Britain, 3
HALL OF FAME TRAINERS (By Number of Nominations)
D. Wayne Lukas, 19
Nicholas P. Zito, 15
Bob Baffert, 13
Richard A. Mandella, 11
W. Jonathan Sheppard, 3
William I. Mott, 6
Neil Drysdale, 2
Claude R. McGaughey III, 2
Carl Nafzger, 1