John C. Oxley’s Classic Empire, the champion 2-year-old of 2016 and winner of the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade I), heads an international roster of 418 3-year-old Thoroughbreds made eligible during the early nomination phase to compete in the classic races of the 2017 American Triple Crown: the $ 2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I), the $ 1.5 million Preakness (GI) and the $ 1.5 million Belmont Stakes (GI).
The Mark Casse-trained Classic Empire, a unanimous choice among voters of the Eclipse Award that honored America’s juvenile champion, heads an international roster of early Triple Crown-eligible horses that also includes Don Alberto Stable’s fast-rising filly Unique Bella among five females nominated and 18 nominees based outside of North American, a total that includes a record nine horses based in Japan.
The 2017 Triple Crown series opens on Saturday, May 6 with the 143rd running of the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The 142nd Preakness, the 1 3/16-mile second jewel, is set for Saturday, May 20 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md. The 149th running of the Belmont Stakes, its 1 ½-mile final leg, is scheduled for Saturday, June 10 at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
The early nomination total for the three-race series is an increase of 13.6 percent from 2016, when the early phase of Triple Crown attracted 368 horses. An additional nine Thoroughbreds were made eligible during the late nomination period to raise the overall 2016 nomination total to 377. The 2017 nomination total represents 1.9 percent of an estimated foal crop of 22,300.
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. (all times Eastern) on Saturday, 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 Monday, March 20.
Each race in the 2016 Triple Crown produced a different winner when Reddam Racing LLC’s then-unbeaten Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby; Big Chief Racing LLC, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Rocket O Ranch LLC et al.’s Exaggerator took the Preakness; and WinStar Farm LLC and Bobby Flay’s Creator completed the series with a dramatic triumph in the Belmont Stakes.
One year earlier Zayat Stables’ American Pharoah, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Victor Espinoza, became only the 12th 3-year-old, and the first since Affirmed in 1978, to sweep the Triple Crown.
The 37-year gap between American Pharoah’s 2015 Triple Crown and the previous sweep by Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame member Affirmed was the longest in the history of the series that dates to 1919, when Sir Barton became the first Thoroughbred to sweep the three classic races.
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 – the roster of nominees to this year’s series is populated by both accomplished stars and promising up-and-coming individuals.
Along with two-time Grade I stakes winner Classic Empire, other winners of Grade I events among the nominees include Cheyenne Stable LLC’s Mastery, the Baffert-trained winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity; Gormley, winner of Santa Anita’s FrontRunner for owners Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Moss and trainer John Shirreffs; Klaravich Stable and William H. Lawrence’s Practical Joke, winner of the Hopeful at Saratoga and Belmont Park’s Champagne; Kaleem Shah Inc.’s Klimt, winner of the Del Mar Futurity now trained by Art Sherman; and Stud Dona Licha’s Huracan Americo, winner of Peru’s Derby Nacional. John C. Oxley’s Pretty City Dancer, one of the five female Triple Crown nominees, scored a dead-heat victory in Saratoga’s Spinaway (GI) for 2-year-old fillies.
Other notables nominees include Whitham Thoroughbreds LLC’s McCracken, winner of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Jockey Club (GII); Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Team D’s Mo Town, winner of Aqueduct’s Remsen (GII); Peacock Racing Stables LLC’s Gunnevera, winner of the Delta Jackpot (GIII) at Delta Downs; William S. Farish and Lora Jean Kilroy’s Guest Suite, winner of the Lecomte (GIII) at Fair Grounds; M M G Stables LLC’s El Areeb, winner of Aqueduct’s Jerome (GIII); Godolphin Racing’s Nashua (GII) winner Hemsworth; and Shinichi Yamashita’s Mont Saint Legame (JPN), unbeaten winner of the Cattleya Sho at Japan’s Tokyo Racecourse.
Other rising stars include Robert LaPenta and Harry Rosenblum’s Uncontested, a front-running winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park; Calumet Farm’s duo of Wild Shot, runner-up in the Kentucky Jockey Club and third in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, and Sonic Mule, winner of the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park; Isabelle de Tomaso’s unbeaten Irish War Cry, winner of Marylander at Laurel Park; L and N Racing LLC’s Lookin At Lee, winner of the Ellis Park Juvenile; and Lael Stable’s No Dozing, runner-up in the Remsen.
The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Unique Bella, winner of the recent Santa Ynez (GII) at Santa Anita, and Pretty City Dancer head a group of five Triple Crown-nominated fillies that also includes Stonestreet Stables LLC’s Breeders’ Cup 14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies (GI) runner-up Valadorna.
Resurgent Triple Crown legend Calumet Farm, the historic Lexington, Ky. farm now owned by Brad Kelley, led all owners with 14 nominations, one more than Zayat Stables, the owner of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Calumet Farm has collected a record 17 victories in Triple Crown races including sweeps by Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948). The total includes a record eight triumphs in the Kentucky Derby, a record seven Preakness wins and the pair of Belmont Stakes wins by its Triple Crown champions.
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.
Todd Pletcher, who includes victories in the Kentucky Derby (Super Saver, 2010) and Belmont Stakes (Rags to Riches, 2007, and Palace Malice, 2013) on his resumé, led all trainers when he nominated 33 3-year-olds to the 2017 Triple Crown. Baffert – who has 12 Triple Crown wins (four in the Kentucky Derby, six in the Preakness and two in the Belmont Stakes) – and Doug O’Neill, who has earned three Triple Crown triumphs (two in the Kentucky Derby and one in the Preakness), were next among trainers with 21 nominees. Steve Asmussen, who saddled Creator to win the 2016 Belmont Stakes, nominated 17 horses, one more than Hollendorfer’s total of 15.
Breeders of Triple Crown-eligible 3-year-olds were led by Fipke, who bred 10 nominated horses and Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC, which bred nine nominees that included one bred in a partnership. Calumet Farm, which has bred a record nine winners of the Kentucky Derby and a record seven Preakness winners to bring its total of victories in Triple Crown races as a breeder to a record 18, bred seven nominated horses. The Calumet total that tied for third among Triple Crown breeders with Gainesway Thoroughbreds Ltd. Betz Thoroughbreds Inc. and WinStar Farm were next with six nominees each.
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. Japan was the top birthplace among nominees foaled outside the U.S. It produced nine nominees, one more than Ontario, Canada.
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, which debuted in 2013. 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.
Churchill Downs adjusted its entry process in 2014 to permit horses that are made supplemental nominations prior to the Kentucky Derby to be treated the same as original nominees. If one or more supplemental nominees possess sufficient “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points to qualify for the Derby field, they will be allowed to start over original nominees that possess lesser qualifications. Under its previous policy, Churchill Downs gave preference in all cases to early and late Triple Crown nominees.
The 12 winners of the Triple Crown are 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), Affirmed (1978) and American Pharoah (2015).
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