Following a record 450 nominations to the 2007 Triple Crown and a near record 449 in 2008, the number has decreased to 401 in 2009.
For the first time in Triple Crown history, the two leading juveniles in the Eclipse Award voting are not in the United States. Champion Midshipman , winner of the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and Del Mar Futurity (gr. I), and Vineyard Haven, winner of the grade I Hopeful and Champagne Stakes, both are owned by Godolphin and stabled in Dubai. Godolphin, headed by Sheikh Mohammed, took over ownership of Midshipman following their purchase of the Stonerside Farm horses of Robert McNair. They purchased Vineyard Haven from owner/trainer Bobby Frankel and partners for a reported $12 million.
The Triple Crown, restricted to 3-year-olds, consists of the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands at 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs May 2, the 134th Preakness Stakes at 1 3/16 miles at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md., May 16, and the 141st running of the Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles at New York’s Belmont Park June 6. All three are grade I classics.
The last horse to sweep the Triple Crown was Affirmed in 1978. Since then, 11 have captured the Derby and Preakness only to be denied in the Belmont Stakes, known as the "Test of the Champion." The latest was last year when Big Brown was eased in the Belmont.
Nominees were made eligible for a fee of $600. Late nominees can be made eligible in late March for a fee of $6,000. In addition, a horse may be supplemented to the three races by payment of $200,000 prior to the Kentucky Derby, or for entry to the Preakness or Belmont Stakes only by a payment of $100,000 to those racing associations prior to those races.
There is a changing of the guard among trainers. For the first time in six years, Todd Pletcher did not top the list of nominated horses, replaced by Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen, who won a record 622 races in 2008, headed by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. Asmussen has 25 horses nominated, followed by Pletcher with 20 and Nick Zito with 19. Three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert is next with 12. Right behind is Richard Violette Jr. with 11 and Bobby Frankel with 10.
Baffert not only has won three Derbys, he’s captured four Preaknesses and a Belmont, giving him eight winners of Triple Crown races. The leader still is D. Wayne Lukas, who has seven horses nominated. Lukas has won the Derby four times, the Preakness five times, and the Belmont four times, a total of 13 Triple Crown victories.
On the European front, Aidan O’Brien has six nominated, and John Gosden, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf with Donativum, as well as the Breeders’ Cup Classic with Raven's Pass, is next with four. A total of 23 horses that were bred outside the U.S. are nominated – eight were bred in Ireland, seven each in England and Canada, and one in Japan.
The growth of Zayat Stables is reflected in its number of nominees. Heading the owners’ list for the third straight year, it jumped from 11 nominees in 2008 to 22 in 2009. Second is the Oxbow Racing of Art and Stephanie Preston with 10. Earle I. Mack and the partnership of Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor are next with nine. Derrick Smith is partners with Magnier and Tabor in eight of them. Robert LaPenta went from six nominees last year to eight in 2009.
A.P. Indyand Unbridled's Song share the top spot on the stallion list, with 14 offspring nominated. Medaglia d’Oro is next with 13, followed by Grand Slamwith nine, and Distorted Humor , Lion Heart, and Seeking the Gold with eight. A.P. Indy’s top horses include Friesan Fire , Indygo Mountain, A.P. Cardinal, and American Dance. Unbridled’s Song is represented by stakes winners Midshipman, Old Fashioned, and Silver City.