Game Winner, the unbeaten winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the current ante-post favorite for the Kentucky Derby, tops a list of 362 3-year-olds who on Wednesday were announced by Churchill Downs as early nominees to this year’s Triple Crown.
The 362 nominees at this stage – which required a $600 fee by Jan. 26 — is a slight increase from last year, when 360 were early nominees. There were 419 nominated at the early stage in 2017, 368 in 2016, and 429 in 2015. The record is 450 in 2007, which followed a foal crop of 37,949 in 2004. The 2016 foal crop is estimated at 22,500.
Horses can still be nominated by April 1, but the cost then is $6,000. There have been no more than 10 made eligible at that stage each of the last five years. There also is a supplemental stage for all three races, but the cost is steep — $200,000 prior to the Derby in order to be eligible for all three races, $150,000 prior to the Preakness for the final two legs of the Triple Crown, or $50,000 for the Belmont Stakes alone.
The Triple Crown consists of the Derby on May 4 at Churchill Downs, Preakness at Pimlico on May 18, and Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 8.
After a drought of 37 years, the Triple Crown has been swept twice in the last four years, both times by colts trained by Bob Baffert. He trains Game Winner – last year’s champion 2-year-old male — as well as another highly regarded, unbeaten colt in Improbable. No one has ever trained three Triple Crown winners.
Baffert, who has won the Derby five times, trains 17 horses who were nominated at the early stage, tying him for second among trainers with two-time winner Todd Pletcher, and reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, who is seeking his first Derby win. Steve Asmussen, also seeking his first Derby win, leads all trainers with 27 early nominees.
There are four fillies among the early nominees, including Jaywalk, who was crowned her division’s champion last year after capturing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and the fleet multiple Grade 1 winner Bellafina.
Other prominent nominees include Knicks Go, winner of the Breeders’ Futurity, and Mind Control, winner of the Hopeful, as well as the comebacking Instagrand, idle since last summer’s Best Pal at Del Mar; Lecomte winner War of Will; the winners of last weekend’s major Derby preps — Harvey Wallbanger, Mucho Gusto, and Tax – and the exciting recent Gulfstream maiden winner Hidden Scroll.
There are 20 horses based outside North America who were nominated, including 11 from Europe, seven of those trained by Aidan O’Brien and owned by the principals in Coolmore. There are four nominees from Japan. Churchill Downs has separate series that potentially carves out spots for a runner based in Europe and another from Japan for the 20-horse Derby field. Neither series produced a starter in last year’s race.
Calumet Farm led all owners with 13 nominees, and is tied with Charles Fipke and Godolphin for the most nominees among breeders with six.
Tapit, for the third straight year, leads all sires with early nominees, with 19 this year.
Among those not nominated are Champagne winner Complexity and Swale winner Call Paul, both of whom are being campaigned as sprinters.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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