Champion 2-year-old Hansen and Union Rags, separated by a head in a thrilling 1-2 finish in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade I), and unbeaten Algorithms, who stepped into the spotlight with a five-length win over the champion in the Holy Bull (GIII) at Gulfstream Park, top a large roster of 397 horses made eligible during the early nomination phase to compete in the three classic races that make up American horse racing’s elusive Triple Crown.
The first race in the series of classic races for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds – the $2 million-guaranteed 138th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) – is set for Saturday, May 5, at world-famous Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The second jewel of the Triple Crown is the 137th running of the $1 million Preakness Stakes (GI), which will be run on Saturday, May 19, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md. The American classic series concludes with the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes (GI) on Saturday, June 11 at New York’s Belmont Park.
All three Triple Crown races will be televised by NBC Sports and are scheduled to be broadcast on radio by the Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN).
The nomination total for the 2012 Triple Crown races is a 9.1 percent increase over the 364 early nominees for the three-race classic series a year ago. The roster of 2012 early Triple Crown nominees is the largest since 2009, when 412 3-year-olds were made eligible during the early period. This year’s early nomination period, during which each nomination was accompanied by a $600 fee, closed on Saturday, Jan. 21. A late period for nominations – during which each nomination must be accompanied by a $6,000 fee – will conclude on Saturday, March 24.
Hansen, owned by Dr. Kendall Hansen and the Sky Chai Racing partnership, completed a perfect three-race campaign with his narrow front-running victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. Along with a 13 ¼-length victory in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile over synthetic Polytrack at Turfway Park, that victory earned Hansen the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old of 2011. Maker’s colt suffered the first setback of his young career in his runner-up finish in the one-mile Holy Bull on Jan. 29, his first start of his 3-year-old season.
Union Rags, a son of Dixie Union owned by Chadds Ford Stable, suffered his only setback in four races in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The bay son of Dixie Union is trained by Michael Matz, who saddled Barbaro to win the 2006 Kentucky Derby, and scored stakes wins in the Champagne (GI) and the Saratoga Special (GII).
Algorithms, owned the Starlight Racing partnership headed by managing partner Jack Wolf, burst onto the road to the Triple Crown with an impressive five-length victory over Hansen in the Holy Bull. That race was the debut in stakes competition for the Todd Pletcher-trained son of 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini and his third in as many starts. He has won his three races, including a maiden victory last June at Belmont Park and a pair of wins this year at Gulfstream Park.
Other winners of major stakes races on the list of early Triple Crown nominees include CashCall Futurity (GI) winner Liaison; Creative Cause, third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and winner of the Norfolk (GI) and Best Pal (GII); Hopeful (GI) winner Currency Swap; Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (GI) winner Dullahan; unbeaten Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) winner Gemologist; and Delta Jackpot (GIII) winner Sabercat.
Brisnet is providing free online past performances of all the 2012 Triple Crown nominees in PDF format at http://www.brisnet.com/brisnet_promos/TC12noms.pdf.
Of this year’s 397 nominations, 344 are colts and there are 37 geldings. The list also includes 10 ridglings.
Horses bred in Kentucky again dominated the roster of Triple Crown nominees. Of the 297 nominees, 303 were born in Kentucky. Florida was next with 27 horses, followed by New York with 13 and California with 12. Fourteen of the nominees were produced outside of the United States, a number that includes six horses bred in Ireland.
The list of nominees includes six fillies, and that group is headed by Anita Cauley’s On Fire Baby, winner of the Golden Rod (GII). She ran third to Triple Crown nominee Junebugred when she faced males in Oaklawn Park’s Smarty Jones on Jan. 16.
Ahmed Zayat’s Zayat Stables LLC leads all owners with 13 nominees to the 2012 Triple Crown. Robert LaPenta is next with 10 and Klaravich Stables Inc. has nine nominees, either on its own or in partnerships.
Five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who scored his first Kentucky Derby victory with Super Saver in 2010, led trainers for the third consecutive year with 32 Triple Crown nominees. Pletcher was tied at 20 atop last year’s list with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who ranks second 21 nominated horses. Steve Asmussen and Nick Zito are next with 15 nominees, and Dale Romans nominated 14.
There is a tie atop the roster of leading Triple Crown sires between two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Tiznow and Unbridled’s Song, each with 12 Triple Crown nominees. Malibu Moon and Street Sense, the winner of the 2007 Kentucky Derby whose first crop of foals are 3-year-olds, share the next spot with 11 nominees. War Front sired 10, with Hard Spun and Smart Strike next with nine.
The Kentucky Derby field has been limited to 20 starters since 1975, and accumulated earnings in prestigious graded stakes races along the “Road to the Triple Crown” have determined the field for the 1 ¼-mile classic since 1986. The field for the Preakness, the 1 3/16-mile second jewel of the Triple Crown, is limited to 14 starters, while Belmont Stakes, the “Test of the Champion” and finale of the series at 1 ½ miles, permits a maximum field of 16 horses.
A Triple Crown sweep – one of the most difficult feats in all of sports – has been accomplished on just 11 occasions: Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1942), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978). Fifty other horses have finished one win shy of the honor.
The 2011 Triple Crown races yielded three different winning horses and the connections of each of the winners experienced their first victories in the coveted series.
Animal Kingdom, owned and bred by the Team Valor partnership headed by Barry Irwin, scored an emphatic victory in the Kentucky Derby to kick-off the 2011 Triple Crown. The winner was trained by H. Graham Motion and was ridden by jockey John Velazquez, who picked up his winning mount the day before the race. Mike Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge’s Shackleford, fourth in the Kentucky Derby for trainer Dale Romans, held off the surging Animal Kingdom by a half-length at Pimlico to win the Preakness under jockey Jesus Castanon. The Belmont Stakes went to George and Lori Hall’s Ruler On Ice, a late nominee to the Triple Crown who had been excluded from the Kentucky Derby field because of insufficient earnings in graded stakes races. The son of Roman Ruler won by a half-length under jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. and provided trainer Kelly Breen with his first success in a Triple Crown race.
The current 33-year streak without a Triple Crown winner is the longest in the history of the series. The previous record was a 25-year gap between the Triple Crown earned by Citation in 1948 and Secretariat’s stunning sweep in 1973.