One year after producing its first uptick following three straight seasons of declines, the number of early nominees to the Triple Crown was back on the decline for 2013 but still featured all the expected major players.
Headed by juvenile male champion Shanghai Bobby and 2-year-old filly champion Beholder, a total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible during the early nomination phase to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes — the three classic races that make up American horse racing's Triple Crown.
This year's total is down from the 398 early nominees in 2012. Twenty more horses were added to the 2012 roster during the Triple Crown's late-nomination phase to bring the final total to 418, the largest since the record of 460 set in 2007 and 2008.
With the exception of Steeler, the first horse to notch a win under the new Kentucky Derby points system when he took the Group II Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket last September, all the serious contenders at this point are accounted for.
The number of live foals reported for 2010 — from which this crop is taken — was also down more than 14 percent from the previous year, according to The Jockey Club. Thus, the smaller number of nominees might be due in part to the contracting nature of the industry.
"This year if you look at the total number and look at the horses, look through the ones who are nominated, you're hard pressed to find one that should be nominated that's not there," said John Asher, vice president of racing communications for Churchill Downs. "Obviously, the foal crop has been dropping and I don't know that you can say that has an impact on this number compared to last year. It's a good strong number that shows continued strong interest in the Triple Crown series."
The deadline for early nominations was Jan. 26 and required a fee of $600. The late-nomination period, which requires the payment of a $6,000 fee, will run through March 23.
The Triple Crown nominees include 325 colts and seven fillies with the remaining nominees including 28 geldings and nine ridglings.
For the fourth consecutive year, five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher leads all conditioners with 29 nominees to the 2013 series. Along with Shanghai Bobby, Pletcher also trains Grade I winner Violence, highly regarded Verrazano and Withers Stakes winner Revolutionary.
Bluegrass Hall and Gary and Mary West each nominated seven horses to the Triple Crown to lead in total nominations by owners, either alone or in partnership.