Led by Eclipse Award winner Uncle Mo and Remsen Stakes winner To Honor and Serve, a total of 364 3-year-olds have been made early nominees to the three Triple Crown races, it was announced late Saturday night by the Triple Crown racetracks, Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park.
All of those 3-year-olds were made eligible for a $600 nomination fee that was due on Jan. 22. Horses can still be nominated, but for $6,000, at a second deadline in late March. There are usually about a dozen horses nominated at the second deadline.
The number of early nominations is among the smallest in the past decade, reflecting the truncated scale of breeding being conducted during the economic crisis. There were 366 horses nominated last year, and in 2005, a crop impacted by Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome in Kentucky, there were 358 early nominees. Otherwise, more than 400 horses have been early nominees every year since 2001.
The Triple Crown nominations were put under a common form in 1986. Since that time, the early nominees have ranged from a high of 450 in 2007 to a low of 315 in 1990.
This year's Triple Crown consists of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 21, and the Belmont Stakes in New York on June 11. No horse has swept all three races since Affirmed in 1978.
Uncle Mo won all three of his starts last year, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and was named the champion 2-year-old male. To Honor and Serve won three times in four starts. Both have yet to race this year.
Uncle Mo's trainer, Todd Pletcher, and Bob Baffert lead all trainers with 20 nominees each. Steve Asmussen is next with 17.
There is a paucity of foreign representation. Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien nominated just two runners. But that's two more than Saeed bin Suroor and his main client, Dubai-based Godolphin Racing, which has zero nominees. Godolphin had eight early nominees last year.
The Maktoum family's Darley Stable does lead all owners with 13 nominees, but all those horses have North American trainers.
Four fillies are nominated, led by Turbulent Descent, who has won three of her first four starts. Awesome Feather, last year's champion 2-year-old filly and the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, was not nominated.
There were no glaring omissions among the nominees. Pluck, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner, was not nominated, but his connections long ago stated their focus was on turf racing, including in Europe.
A full list of nominations can be found at DRF.com.