Essential Quality Leads 326-Strong Triple Crown Nomination Parade

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Getting your horse a Triple Crown nomination was so simple that connections to this year’s 3-year-old hopefuls nominated 326 horses to compete in the three American Classic races this spring.

Pletcher-Baffert Triple Crown
Between them, trainers Todd Pletcher (left) and Bob Baffert own eight Kentucky Derby victories. Pletcher (45) and Baffert (23) run 1-2 in early nominated horses for this year’s Triple Crown races. (Image: Doug Engle/Star-Banner/AP File)

The 326 nominations represent a slight, 6.1% dip from last year’s 347 early nominees.

Those connections paid $600 during the early nomination period. That closed Jan. 23. Now, the price of admission to run any Triple Crown race goes up. Any horses not nominated during that early period can buy their way in for $6,000. That late period ends March 29.

At that point, the price really goes up. Making your horse Triple Crown eligible after March 29 requires a supplemental nomination fee at the time of entry for each race. It costs you $200,000 for a Kentucky Derby entry, $150,000 for the Preakness Stakes and $50,000 to enter the Belmont Stakes.

The American Classics Return to their Classic Times

This year’s Derby is May 1 at Churchill Downs. The Preakness runs at Pimlico Race Course two weeks later, on May 15. The Belmont wraps up the 2021 Triple Crown June 5 at Belmont Park.

Leading the Triple Crown nomination parade was the 2-Year-Old Champion of 2020: Essential Quality. The two-time Grade 1 winner was one of 14 Brad Cox-trained horses nominated. Essential Quality, the William Hill Nevada Derby futures favorite at 7/1, is expected to run the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park Feb. 15.

Last week, Cox won his first Eclipse Award as Champion Trainer. But two-time Derby winner Todd Pletcher led all trainers in horses nominated, with 45. The name synonymous with Derby success – six-time winner Bob Baffert – had 23 nominated. Steve Asmussen, who owns more than 9,000 victories – but no Derbies – has 22. Chad Brown is fourth with 18.

Industry monolith Godolphin, which owns Essential Quality, leads individual owners with 11 nominations. Calumet Farm, one of Kentucky’s iconic farms, came in with 10 nominations.

No Surprise: Into Mischief Leads Another Category

Speaking of iconic, Into Mischief sired the most nominees – 20. Several of the usual sire suspects follow: Curlin (14), Uncle Mo (14) and Constitution (13). Into Mischief sired last year’s Derby winner, Authentic. Constitution sired last year’s Belmont Stakes winner and Derby runner-up, Tiz the Law.

And speaking of the usual suspects, 42 stakes winners were nominated. These include the juveniles-turned-sophomores you recognize: Brooklyn Strong, Caddo River, Capo Kane, Fire At Will, Jackie’s Warrior, Greatest Honour, Keepmeinmind, Life Is Good, Medina Spirit, Midnight Bourbon, Señor Buscador, Sittin On Go and Spielberg, among others.

Conspicuous by their absence on that list are Conquer the World and Golden Whim. To date, neither of those two entered a starting gate in their careers. But both are tied for the highest public auction purchase price of any nominee — $1.5 million. Conquer the World earned his at the 2019 Fasig Tipton August Sale. Golden Whim brought his at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

Triple Crown Nominations Welcome Both Sexes

That total also includes 13 fillies, including stakes winners Vequist and Simply Ravishing. Vequist won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies en route to being named Champion 2-Year-Old Filly. Simply Ravishing won the Grade 1 Ashland. If either runs, they’d be seeking the same hoofprint path as 2020 Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver.

Not surprisingly, Kentucky holds an overwhelming lead among the states, breeding 265 of the 326 nominated horses – 81.3%. New York is a distant second (17), followed by Florida (14). All told, 12 states claim at least one Triple Crown nominated horse.

Five horses based in Japan and 14 horses foaled outside the US drew nominations. Seven come from Canada, four from Ireland and three foaled in Japan.



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