The lure of the American classics continues to trump the contraction of the Thoroughbred population as a total of 429 3-year-olds make up the early nominees to compete in the 2015 Triple Crown races.
While the Thoroughbred foal crop has seen marked declines since 2008, this year's number of early nominees represents a 3.6 percent increase over last year's early total and the most since 460 were nominated in 2008. It marks the second straight year the number of early nominees has risen with last year's total representing a 11.9 percent increase over 2013.
This year's 429 early nominees to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes also represent a record 1.8 percent of the 2012 North American foal crop, which was estimated at 23,500 Thoroughbreds.
"Considering the decline of the foal crop, it's a pretty amazing feat to be up for a second straight year," said Darren Rogers, senior director of communications for Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. "It's obviously very encouraging. Also what I find to be interesting is ... we've got 233 nominees that are still maiden, including 103 that are unraced. It tells us that folks are taking their time with developing these 3-year-olds and keeping their hopes alive."
As was the case a year ago, seven-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher leads all trainers with 34 early nominees including the Grade I-winning trio of Carpe Diem, Competitive Edge and Daredevil.
Juvenile champion American Pharoah is one of 15 nominees trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who has nine Triple Crown wins. Also among Baffert's nominees is Kaleem Shah's unbeaten Dortmund, winner of the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity.
Willis Horton's Take Charge Brandi, the reigning champion 2-year-old filly, is among the 11 fillies nominated along with fellow Grade I winner Condo Commando.
The roster of 2015 Triple Crown-eligible horses includes 379 colts, 30 geldings, 11 fillies and nine ridglings. Of the 429 early nominees, 409 were bred in the United States and 323 of that number, or 75 percent, were foaled in Kentucky.
Historic Calumet Farm, the all-time leader in Triple Crown victories with 18, is the nomination leader among owners after making 15 horses eligible. Leading breeders are Darley and WinStar Farm, with 11 each.