A record-shattering army of 42 talented and promising young stars from the stable of six-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher and 2-year-old stars of 2013 headed by unbeaten champion Shared Belief and stakes winners Honor Code and Cairo Prince top a roster of 413 3-year-old Thoroughbreds – an 11.9% increase from last year – that are early nominees to compete in the 2014 Triple Crown, the coveted series of American classic races that includes the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I), the $1.5 million-guaranteed Preakness (GI) and the $1.5 million-guaranteed Belmont Stakes (GI).
The 413 total is the highest since 2009, when 401 horses were made eligible for the three-race series during the early nomination phase. Eleven horses were nominated during the late phase that year to bring the overall total to 412.
The 2013 Triple Crown series attracted 369 early nominations. Thirteen horses were added during the late nomination phase, which brought total Triple Crown nominations for 2013 to 382.
Nominations to the 2014 Triple Crown opened Jan. 2 and closed on Jan. 25, and required payment of a $600 fee for each nominated horse. The 2014 late nomination period, which requires a payment $6,000 for each nominated 3-year-old, opened Sunday, Jan. 26 and continues through Saturday, March 22.
The 2014 Triple Crown series opens on Saturday, May 3 with the 140th running of the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The 139th Preakness, the 1 3/16-mile second jewel, is set for Saturday, May 17 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md. The 146th running of the Belmont Stakes, its 1 ½-mile final leg, is scheduled for Saturday, June 7 at Belmont Park, in Elmont, N.Y.
The number of horses made eligible for the Triple Crown by Pletcher, who has three Triple Crown victories to his credit, comprises 10.2% of the overall early nomination total. It is easily the highest total for an individual trainer since host tracks Churchill Downs, Pimlico Race Course and Belmont Park adopted a joint nominating process in 1986. Pletcher set the previous record for nominations by a trainer when he made 32 horses Triple Crown-eligible in 2012.
Most prominent among the Pletcher nominees are Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s Havana, a gray/roan son of Dunkirk who won the Champagne (GI) at Belmont Park and experienced his only setback in three races in a runner-up finish to the now-retired New Year’s Day in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Santa Anita; Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s We Miss Artie, winner of the Breeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland; and a collection of promising recent winners that includes WinStar Farm’s Commissioner, WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing’s Constitution, Alto Racing’s Anchor Down, Let’s Go Stable’s Harpoon, Stonestreet Stable’s Hartford and Magnier, Tabor and Smith’s Matterhorn.
Pletcher also nominated a pair of stakes-winning fillies to the Triple Crown in Repole Stable’s Stopchargingmaria, winner of Aqueduct’s Demoiselle (GII), and Glencrest Farm’s unbeaten Onlyforyou, who took Gulfstream Park’s Forward Gal (GII) on Jan. 25.
Outside of the swarm of Pletcher trainees, the early nominations to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes are highlighted by the presence of Jungle Racing LLC, KMN Racing LLC, Jerry Hollendorfer, Jason Litt, Alex Solis II and George Todaro’s unbeaten Shared Belief, the Hollendorfer-trained Eclipse Award champion 2-year-old of 2013 and winner of the CashCall Futurity (GI); Harvey Clark, Craig Robertson, Paul Braverman III and Namcook Stable’s Cairo Prince, a dazzling winner of the Grade II Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in his first start of 2014 for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin; Lane’s End Racing and Dell Ridge Farm LLC’s Honor Code, winner of the Remsen (GII) at Aqueduct; and William S. Farish and E. J. Hudson Jr.’s Top Billing, a son of 2007 Preakness winner and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and an impressive winner of a Jan. 25 allowance race at Gulfstream Park. Honor Code and Top Billing are trained by Hall of Famer Shug McCaughey, who earned his first Kentucky Derby victory in 2013 with Phipps Stable and Stuart Janney III’s homebred Orb and won the 1989 Belmont Stakes with Ogden Phipps’ Easy Goer.
Other current stars of the 3-year-old crop nominated to this spring’s Triple Crown include Robert Baker and William Mack’s Strong Mandate, winner of the Hopeful (GI) at Saratoga for 78-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, whose victory in the 2013 Preakness with Calumet Farm’s Oxbow was his record 14th triumph in a Triple Crown contest; Bond Holder, winner of the Front Runner (GI) at Santa Anita for Reddam Racing LLC and Doug O’Neill, the owner and trainer team who won the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another; Mr. and Mrs. Larry Williams’ Tamarando, the Hollendorfer-trained winner of the Del Mar Futurity (GI); Ron Winchell’s Tapiture, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) for trainer Steve Asmussen; Conquest Stable LLC’s Holy Bull runner-up Conquest Titan; Treadway Racing Stable’s Noble Moon, winner of the recent Jerome (GII) at Aqueduct; Team D’s In Trouble, winner of the Belmont Futurity (GII); and a trio of stakes winners owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who recently earned Eclipse Awards that honor the Nicholasville, Ky. couple as America’s top owners and breeders of 2013. Those stars – who are among eight Ramsey-owned nominees – are the Chad Brown-trained Bobby’s Kitten, third to Outstrip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) at Santa Anita and winner of the Pilgrim (GIII) over the Belmont Park grass; Vicar’s in Trouble, winner of the Lecomte (GIII) at Fair Grounds for trainer Mike Maker; and We Miss Artie, the Pletcher-trained winner of the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI) over the synthetic Polytrack surface at Keeneland Race Course.
Along with the pair of stakes-winning fillies nominated by Pletcher, the roster of Triple Crown nominees includes 12 other females. Most prominent among that group are Christopher Dunn and Loooch Racing’s Ria Antonia, winner by disqualification of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Santa Anita for trainer Jeremiah Englehart; Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings’ unbeaten Streaming, the Bob Baffert-trained winner of the Hollywood Starlet (GI); and Charles Fipke’s Unbridled Forever, winner of the Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds for trainer Dallas Stewart, who saddled Fipke’s Golden Soul to a runner-up finish to Orb in the 2013 Kentucky Derby. The most recent females to win the respective Triple Crown races were Winning Colors (1988 Kentucky Derby), Rachel Alexandra (2009 Preakness) and Rags to Riches (2007 Belmont Stakes).
As usual, the American Triple Crown series attracted nominations for horses based beyond U.S. borders, headed by four from the barn of Irish training champion Aidan O’Brien. His group, all owned by Magnier, Tabor and Smith, includes Giovanni Boldini, who already has experience on American shores after finishing as the close runner-up to Outstrip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf; Oklahoma City, a British-bred son of Oasis Dream who finished second in Newmarket’s Autumn Stakes (GIII) behind Kingston Hill, who won the Racing Post Trophy (GI) in his next start; and Michaelmas, a son of Elusive Quality and a $525,000 weanling purchase at the 2011 Keeneland November Sale who was runner-up in last fall’s Killavullan (GIII) at Ireland’s Leopardstown.
Of the 399 male nominees to the 2014 classics, 359 are colts, 30 are geldings and 10 are listed as ridglings.
While Pletcher was the runaway leader in Triple Crown nominations by a single trainer, he was followed in that category by Bob Baffert (18 nominations), Steve Asmussen (13) and Lukas (12). Pletcher’s Palace Malice won last year’s Belmont Stakes to raise his Triple Crown win total to three following wins by Super Saver in the 2010 Kentucky Derby and the filly Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont.
Leading owners, either alone or in partnership, were Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor, who shared ownership of 13 nominees. Their regular partner Derrick Smith owns 12 of the nominated horses, and was followed by Stonestreet Stables LLC with nine nominees.
WinStar Farm LLC, owner of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer, led all breeders with nine nominees, either alone or in partnerships. The Estate of Edward Evans was next with eight, followed by Darley’s seven nominees and six each for Brereton C. Jones and Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC.
Of the 413 nominated 3-year-olds, 388 were bred in the United States and Kentucky was the state of breeding for 302 of those horses. Florida produced 29 nominees, and was followed by Virginia (13), New York (12) and Pennsylvania (10). Canada produced 12 of the 15 horses bred in international locals. Nine were bred in Ireland.
Bernardini, winner of the 2006 Preakness, and Tapit each sired 16 nominees to rank as leading sires among early Triple Crown nominees. Distorted Humor, Giant’s Causeway and Unbridled’s Song tied at 10.
The purses for the 2014 renewals of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes will be the richest in history. The Maryland Jockey Club and the New York Racing Association increased the purses for their respective Triple Crown races by $500,000. The boost to the Preakness purse is the first since an increase to $1 million-guaranteed in 1998, and the Belmont Stakes purse rose to the $1 million level that same year. The Kentucky Derby purse climbed to $1 million guaranteed in 1996, and Churchill Downs raised it to its current level in 2005.
The Kentucky Derby field has been limited to 20 starters since 1975 and the horses that enter the starting gate for this year’s running will be determined by points earned in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” eligibility system, which debuted in 2013. If more than the maximum field of 20 horses is entered in the race, up to four “also eligible” entrants will be permitted. If one or more starters are scratched prior to 9 a.m. (Eastern) on Friday, May 2, also-eligible horse with the highest preference in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” system will be allowed to replace the scratched horse or horses in the starting gate.
The Preakness field is limited to 14 starters and the Belmont Stakes allows a maximum of 16 horses.
Three-year-olds that are not nominated for the Triple Crown during its early or late nomination phases have a final opportunity to become eligible to compete in one or all of the races through the payment of a supplemental nomination fee. Due at the time of entry for either the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes, the supplemental fee process makes a horse eligible for the remainder of the Triple Crown series. A supplemental nomination at the time of entry to the Kentucky Derby requires payment of $200,000. The fee is $150,000 if paid prior to the Preakness or $75,000 at time of entry to the Belmont Stakes.
Churchill Downs adjusted its supplemental nomination process this year to allow those nominations made prior to the Kentucky Derby to be treated the same as original nominees. If a supplemental nominee has collected sufficient points to qualify for the Derby field, that horse would be allowed to start over original nominees that possess lesser qualifications. Under its previous policy, Churchill Downs gave preference to original nominees to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown over supplemental nominees.
A sweep of the three Triple Crown races – one of the most difficult feats in all of sports – has been accomplished on only 11 occasions. The roster of Triple Crown winners includes Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978).
The 36-year gap since the most recent Triple Crown sweep by Affirmed in 1978 is the longest in the history of the series. The previous record was the 25-year span between the 1948 Triple Crown earned by Citation and Secretariat’s record-shattering three-race sweep in 1973.
The Triple Crown races produced three separate winners in 2013. Phipps Stable and Stuart Janney III’s Orb won the Kentucky Derby, Calumet Farm’s Oxbow earned the victory in the Preakness and Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice took the Belmont Stakes.
A total of 51 3-year-olds have won two of the Triple Crown’s three races. Reddam Racing’s I’ll Have Another became the most recent to do so when he won the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but did not compete in the Belmont Stakes.