Bob Baffert surpassed fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas with 15 Triple Crown race wins when Justify swept the Belmont Stakes and the two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer will look to pad his record in 2019 with a strong roster. Led by champion two-year-old male Game Winner and unbeaten Grade 1 winner Improbable, Baffert has 17 nominees among the 362 three-year-olds who were made eligible for this year’s Triple Crown by the January 26 early nomination phase deadline.
Each of the 362 horses from the 2016 foal crop was made eligible through a $600 payment to compete in any of the Triple Crown contests: the 145th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) on May 4 at Churchill Downs (1 1/4 miles); the 144th running of the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (G1) on May 18 at Pimlico Race Course (1 3/16 miles); and the 151st running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 8 at Belmont Park (1 1/2 miles).
The total was similar to last year when 360 were nominated at the early stage.
Gary and Mary West’s Game Winner, who is perfect from four starts including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs, heads the 17-horse cast from five-time Kentucky Derby winner Baffert. Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) victor Improbable has also won under the Twin Spires, posting a seven-length romp in the November 2 Street Sense the second time out, and is campaigned by three-fourths of the same team that swept last year’s Triple Crown with Justify: WinStar Farm LLC, China Horse Club International Ltd. and Starlight Racing.
Other prominent nominees include stakes winners: Gray Attempt (Smarty Jones), Gunmetal Gray (Sham), Harvey Wallbanger (Holy Bull), Instagrand (Best Pal), Knicks Go (Breeders’ Futurity), Long Range Toddy (Springboard Mile), Maximus Mischief (Remsen), Mind Control (Jerome), Mucho Gusto (Robert B. Lewis), Signalman (Kentucky Jockey Club), Tax (Withers), Vekoma (Nashua), War of Will (Lecomte) and Win Win Win (Pasco).
Bourbon War, Code of Honor, Coliseum, Country House, Extra Hope, Frank’sgunisloaded, Global Campaign, Hidden Scroll, Jersey Agenda, Kentucky Wildcat, Limonite, Mucho, Network Effect, Nolo Contesto, Omaha Beach, Owendale, Plus Que Parfait, Roadster, Soldado, Tacitus and Walking Thunder are just some of the numerous well-meant prospects that were made eligible for the series.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen led all trainers with 27 nominations. In addition to Baffert, Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher also had 17 nominees.
Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm led all owners with 13 nominations and tied with Charles Fipke and Godolphin for the most nominees among breeders with six apiece.
For the third straight year, Tapit was the leading sire with 19 offspring nominated. Into Mischief was next with 15 and was followed by Curlin (13), Cairo Prince (11) and Uncle Mo (11).
Four fillies were nominated, including champion two-year-old filly and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner Jaywalk and multiple Grade 1-winner Bellafina.
The nominees also include 20 horses based outside North America, including 11 from Europe, five from Dubai and four from Japan. Irish-based trainer Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore group nominated seven, including graded/group stakes-winning sons of Scat Daddy, Sergei Prokofiev and Van Beethoven.
Notable horses not nominated to this year’s Triple Crown include Champagne (G1) winner Complexity and Saratoga Special (G2) and Swale (G3) winner Call Paul.
Horses not nominated to the Triple Crown during the early phase can be made eligible at www.thetriplecrown.com for $6,000 during the late nomination period which continues through April 1. If not nominated by that date, horses can become eligible through payment of a supplemental nomination fee due at the time of entry for either the Kentucky Derby ($200,000), Preakness ($150,000) or Belmont ($50,000).
Thirteen horses have swept the Triple Crown series: Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).