After a dip in early nominations to the Triple Crown last year, the numbers came roaring back this year, with 397 3-year-olds -- led by champion 2-year-old colt Hansen -- announced on Saturday as nominees to the 2012 Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
The 397 early nominees is a significant increase over last year's total of 366, which was the second-lowest number in a decade. It is the largest since 2009, when 412 were nominated. While this marks the third time since 2001 that the early nominations failed to reach 400, it comes amid an atmosphere of fewer horses being bred, so the increase is noteworthy.
All of the nominees announced on Saturday were made eligible for a $600 fee that was due Jan. 21.
Horses can still be nominated, but for $6,000, at a second deadline on March 24. There are usually about a dozen horses nominated at the second deadline.
This year's Derby is May 5 at Churchill Downs, with the Preakness at Pimlico on May 19, and the Belmont in New York on June 11. All three races will be televised by NBC Sports.
Other prominent nominees include Union Rags, who was second to Hansen in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile; and Algorithms, who sent Hansen to the first loss of his career in last weekend's Holy Bull Stakes.
Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Algorithms, leads all trainers with 32 nominations. Bob Baffert is next with 21.
Six fillies are nominated, including Golden Rod Stakes winner On Fire Baby. My Miss Aurelia, the unbeaten winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, is currently recuperating from a minor injury and, not surprisingly, was not nominated.
The most significant absence among males might be Timely Tally, who was third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall but has not recorded a workout since.
Ahmed Zayat's Zayat Stables leads all owners with 13 nominees. Robert LaPenta is next with 10.
Tiznow and Unbridled's Song each have 12 of their offspring nominated to lead the sires list.
Kentucky has the most nominations, with 303 horses bred there. Florida is next with 27.
No horse has swept the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, the longest drought since the Triple Crown was first won by Sir Barton in 1919.