Champion Nyquist among 368 early nominees to Triple Crown

Nyquist with Mario Gutierrez up, inside, out ran Swipe and Victor Espinoza to win the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile at the 2015 Breeders' Cup at Keeneland Race Course Saturday October 31, 2015.
Nyquist with Mario Gutierrez up, inside, out ran Swipe and Victor Espinoza to win the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile at the 2015 Breeders' Cup at Keeneland Race Course Saturday October 31, 2015. Herald-Leader

A total of 368 3-year-old Thoroughbreds, including unbeaten juvenile champion Nyquist, were made eligible for the 2016 Triple Crown as early nominees for the series of American classics were announced Thursday.

In a year following American Pharoah’s sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, the early nomination total for 2016 is the smallest since 2011, when 364 horses were made eligible to compete in the series. Early nominations to the Triple Crown in 2015 numbered 429 and nine late nominations raised the final total to 438.

The early nomination period for the 2015 Triple Crown closed on Saturday, Jan. 16. Nominations during the early phase were required to be accompanied by payment of a $600 fee.

A late nomination period for the Triple Crown is underway and requires payment of $6,000 for each nominated 3-year-old. The late nomination period runs through Monday, March 21 at 11:59 p.m. (all times Eastern).

This year’s 368 early Triple Crown nominees are products of the the 2013 North American foal crop, which was estimated at 23,000 Thoroughbreds, the smallest foal crop estimate since 1969.

On the heels conditioning American Pharoah for Zayat Stables, four-time Eclipse Award winner and racing Hall of Famer Bob Baffert led all trainers with 35 3-year-olds nominated to the 2016 series. Baffert’s roster of nominees includes Los Alamitos Futurity winner Mor Spirit; Collected and Let’s Meet in Rio, the 1-2 finishers in Grade III Sham and Grade III winner Toews On Ice.

In a bid for unprecedented back-to-back winners of the Triple Crown, Zayat Stables is the leading owner of 2016 Triple Crown nominees with 15, up from nine horses nominated by the stable a year ago. The Zayat nominees include King Kranz, runner-up to Annual Report in the Belmont Futurity and winner of the Lost in the Fog Stakes at Aqueduct on New Year’s Day, and Justin Squared, an impressive winner in his lone start at Del Mar.

Nyquist, the Eclipse Award champion 2-year-old who capped a perfect five-race 2015 campaign with a victory in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland, races for the team of Reddam Racing, trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez – the same connections that won two-thirds of the 2012 Triple Crown with I’ll Have Another.

The roster of 368 Triple Crown-eligible horses includes 327 colts, 30 geldings, eight ridglings and three fillies. Reigning juvenile filly champion Songbird was not nominated as her connections had previously stated she would not point for the Kentucky Derby.

Seventeen nominees were bred outside of the United States. Of those international nominees, nine were bred in Canada and four in Great Britain. Heading the international nominees is Mrs. Evelyn M. Stockwell’s Hit It a Bomb, the Aidan O’Brien-trained winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland.

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 again be determined by points earned in the 35-race “Road to the Kentucky Derby” eligibility system, which debuted in 2013. If Derby entries total more than the maximum field of 20, up to four “also eligible” entrants will be permitted. If one or more starters is scratched prior to 9 a.m. on Friday, May 6, the also-eligible horse or horses 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 field for the Preakness is limited to 14 starters, while the Belmont Stakes permits a maximum of 16 horses in its starting gate.

Three-year-olds that were not nominated for the Triple Crown series during either the early or late nomination phases have a final opportunity to become eligible for 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.