01/24/2017 12:13PM

Triple Crown nominees for 2017 rise to 418

Debra A. Roma
Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion Classic Empire leads the list of 418 nominees to the 2017 Triple Crown races.

Classic Empire won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, was named the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 2016, and on Tuesday headed a robust list of 418 3-year-olds who were announced as early nominees to this year’s Triple Crown.

There were 368 horses nominated at this stage a year ago, so this year’s total is a significant bump from 2016. There were 429 nominated at the early stage in 2015. The record is 450 in 2007, which followed a huge foal crop of 37,948 in 2004. The 2014 foal crop was estimated at 22,300.

The Triple Crown consists of the Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs, Preakness at Pimlico on May 20, and Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 10. Twelve horses have swept the series, but just one since 1978, American Pharoah in 2015. Last year, three different horses – Nyquist, Exaggerator, and Creator, respectively -- won the three races.

:: Triple Crown: Complete list of nominees

There are two stages to the nomination process. Earlier this month, horses could be nominated to all three races for $600. There is a second deadline on March 20, but the cost then is $6,000; nine horses were added at the second stage last year. There also is a supplemental stage for all three races, but the cost is steep -- $200,000 prior to the Kentucky 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 $75,000 for the Belmont Stakes alone.

Five fillies are among this year’s nominees, including the exciting Unique Bella, who is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer. A year ago, Hollendorfer and Songbird’s owner, Rick Porter, purposely did not nominate Songbird to the Triple Crown.

There are nine horses nominated from Japan, a country from which Churchill Downs is actively seeking a participant for this year’s Derby, as the Road to the Derby points series has carved out two races in Japan designed to have a Japanese representative.

Other prominent nominees include Gormley, winner of the FrontRunner Stakes; Klimt, winner of the Del Mar Futurity; Mastery, winner of the Cash Call Futurity; McCraken, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club; Remsen winner Mo Town; and Practical Joke, who won the Hopeful and Champagne and was third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Well-known male horses not listed as nominated include Oscar Performance, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, who has yet to race on dirt, and Beach Bum, an impressive debut winner at Santa Anita in November who has not worked since Dec. 27.

Todd Pletcher leads all trainers with 33 nominees. Bob Baffert, trainer of Mastery, is tied for second with Doug O’Neill with 21 nominees. Steve Asmussen has 17, and Hollendorfer 15.

The Calumet Farm of Brad Kelley leads all owners with 14 nominations, one more than Ahmed and Justin Zayat’s Zayat Stables, which owned American Pharoah.

Charles Fipke leads all breeders with 10 horses nominated, followed by Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables with nine, including one bred in partnership.

Tapit, sire of Unique Bella, leads all sires with 19 offspring nominated, followed by Into Mischief, sire of Practical Joke, with 16.