02/06/2006 1:00AM

Pletcher again leads the pack


Led by a record 38 horses trained by two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, a total of 426 3-year-olds have been nominated to this year's Triple Crown.

The total is the fourth-highest in the 22-year history of horses being nominated collectively to the May 6 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, May 20 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, and June 10 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. Before 1985, horses had to be nominated separately to all three races.

The early nominees were made eligible with a $600 payment that was due on Jan. 21. Horses not yet nominated can be made eligible, but at 10 times the price, by March 25 for $6,000.

Last year, 358 horses were nominated at the early deadline for the Triple Crown, and another 14 were nominated at the second deadline, for a total of 372. Last year's total was affected by the mare reproductive loss syndrome that befell the breeding industry in Kentucky starting in the spring of 2001, truncating the subsequent 3-year-old crops of 2004 and 2005. The record number of nominees is 446 in 2003.

This year's nominees include the colt Stevie Wonderboy and the filly Folklore, both of whom won Breeders' Cup races last fall at Belmont and subsequently were named Eclipse Award winners of their respective divisions. Stevie Wonderboy, however, suffered a fracture on Monday at Hollywood Park and will miss the Triple Crown.

Stevie Wonderboy was one of 11 horses from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile who were nominated, including second-place finisher Henny Hughes, third-place finisher First Samurai, and fourth-place finisher Brother Derek, who upset Stevie Wonderboy in last month's San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita. The Derby has never been won by the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, a streak that will carry over for at least another year.

In addition to Folklore, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up, Wild Fit, was nominated. They are the only two fillies made eligible thus far to the Triple Crown.

Other prominent nominees include the undefeated Barbaro, who won Saturday's Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and Bob and John, who won the Sham Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

Pletcher's nominees include Bluegrass Cat, who won the Remsen Stakes in his final start of 2005 and is scheduled to make his first start of this year in the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 18. Pletcher also nominated Keyed Entry, who remained unbeaten by defeating First Samurai in the Hutcheson Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream.

Pletcher has led the nation's trainers in Triple Crown nominees for three straight years. His 38 nominees eclipses the previous high of 35, set by Pletcher in 2004. Second among trainers with nominees this year are Hall of Famers Richard Mandella and Nick Zito, with 15 each.

There were 15 horses from overseas nominated, including five from the Dubai-based Godolphin Racing of Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum. Aidan O'Brien, Ireland's top trainer, nominated three horses.

Bob and Beverly Lewis lead all owners with 10 nominees, including Folklore.