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Edited from a releaseWith the New Year just weeks away, horsemen across North America, Europe and Asia are ready to turn their attention to the 2004 Visa Triple Crown as the early nomination period begins. The Visa Triple Crown is racing's greatest series, and its prize is the Visa Triple Crown Challenge $5 million bonus awarded to the winner of all three Visa Triple Crown races--the grade I Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Nomination applications have been mailed and on-track gathering of nominations will begin Jan. 1 as representatives of Triple Crown Productions and the three racetracks involved--Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park--begin canvassing trainers and owners in California, Florida and Kentucky, Louisiana and New York. The early nomination period closes on Jan. 17. The fee for the early sign-up is $600 per nomination. Late nominations, at $6,000 each, go into effect on Jan. 18 and close on March 27. "We look forward to meeting with hopeful horsemen from all corners of the sport of Thoroughbred racing as they prepare their finest equine athletes for the opportunity to become the newest hero of Visa Triple Crown prominence," said Edward P. Seigenfeld, executive vice president of Triple Crown Productions, based at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. "We are confident that we once again will bring the cream of the 3-year-old crop of runners representing the world's racing venues."The Visa Triple Crown champion title and the $5 million bonus have proved to be elusive in recent past years as five outstanding colts captured the first two races of the Series: Silver Charm 1997; Real Quiet 1998; Charismatic 1999; War Emblem 2002 and last year's bid made by Funny Cide. The representatives who will be on track for nominations include: In Southern California, beginning January 5th: Ed Seigenfeld and Gene Williams, representing Triple Crown Productions; Don Richardson, Churchill Downs; Andrew Byrnes, New York Racing Association. In Florida, beginning Jan. 8th: Ed Seigenfeld, Triple Crown Productions; Don Richardson; Doug Bredar, Karen Zega and Julian "Buck" Wheat, Churchill Downs; Lou Raffetto and Wendy Pensivy, Maryland Jockey Club; Mike Lakow, New York Racing Association. In New Orleans, beginning January 13th: Mike Hargrave, Churchill Downs.Nominations also can be made by calling the racing offices at each of the racetracks or by using the internet at www.visatriplecrown.com. Nominations may be made electronically at that website by using a Visa credit card for payment, or by downloading a copy of the nomination application and mailing or faxing it to Triple Crown Productions.