Classic Empire, the winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the champion 2-year-old of 2016, heads an international roster of 418 3-year-old Thoroughbreds nominated to this year’s Triple Crown races.
The early nominations for the three-race series increased by 50 horses over last year. The record for early nominations was 450 in 2007.
The $2 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 6, the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 20 and the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes at Bemont Park in New York on June 10 comprise the 2017 Triple Crown.
Calumet Farm of Lexington led all owners with 14 nominations, one more than Zayat Stables, the owner of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Charles Fipke nominated 11 horses to rank third among all owners, and was followed by three owners with nine nominees: Reddam Racing LLC; Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith; and WinStar Farm.
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The Mark Casse-trained and John C. Oxley-owned Classic Empire, a unanimous choice among voters of the Eclipse Award that honored America’s juvenile champion, heads a field of nominees that includes five females and 18 Thoroughbreds based outside North America, including a record nine based in Japan.
Owners and trainers of promising 3-year-olds were required to pay a fee of $600 to make their young stars eligible to compete in the Triple Crown series during the early nomination period, which concluded at 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 14. A late nomination period, which requires the payment of $6,000 for each nominated 3-year-old, is now underway and continues through March 20.
While Classic Empire will attempt to become the second consecutive juvenile champion to win at least one of the Triple Crown classics — 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist was the champion of his age group in 2015 — this year’s roster of nominees is populated by both accomplished stars and promising up-and-comers.
Along with two-time Grade I stakes winner Classic Empire, other winners of Grade I events among the nominees include Mastery, the winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity; Gormley, winner of Santa Anita’s FrontRunner; Practical Joke, winner of the Hopeful at Saratoga and Belmont Park’s Champagne; Klimt, winner of the Del Mar Futurity; and Huracan Americo, winner of Peru’s Derby Nacional. Pretty City Dancer, one of the five female Triple Crown nominees, scored a dead-heat victory in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Spinaway for 2-year-old fillies.
Other notables nominees include McCracken, winner of Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club; Mo Town, winner of Aqueduct’s Grade 2 Remsen; Gunnevera, winner of the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs; Guest Suite, winner of the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds; and El Areeb, winner of Aqueduct’s Grade 3 Jerome.
Todd Pletcher led all trainers with 33 nominees to the 2017 Triple Crown. Bob Baffert and Doug O’Neill were next among trainers with 21 nominees.
Breeders of Triple Crown-eligible 3-year-olds were led by Fipke, who bred 10, and Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC, which bred nine nominees.
Kentucky easily remained the leading birthplace of Triple Crown hopefuls as 313 of the 418 early nominees were foaled in the Bluegrass State — 76.3 percent of the overall total. Florida was next with 25 nominated horses and California and New York tied for third at 11.
The Kentucky Derby field has been limited to 20 starters since 1975 and the horses that enter the starting gate for its 2016 renewal will again be determined by points earned in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” eligibility system. If entries to the Derby total more than the maximum field of 20, up to four “also eligible” entrants will be permitted. If one or more entrants scratch from the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field prior to 9 a.m. Friday, May 5, the also-eligible horse or horses with highest preference in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” system assume the empty stalls in the starting gate.
The Preakness is limited to 14 starters, while the Belmont Stakes permits a maximum field of 16 horses.
Three-year-olds that were not nominated to the Triple Crown during either the early or late nomination phases have a final opportunity to become eligible for the races through 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.
Triple Crown winners
The 12 winners of the Triple Crown:
Sir Barton (1919)
Gallant Fox (1930)
War Admiral (1937)
Count Fleet (1943)
Seattle Slew (1977)
American Pharoah (2015)