Topped by last year's champion 2-year-old male Vindication and 19 nominations from the powerful Godolphin racing stable of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Maktoum of Dubai, a record 446 horses have been nominated to the Visa Triple Crown and the $5-million Visa Triple Crown Challenge before the early nomination deadline of Jan. 18.
Among the early nominees are five fillies and 38 horses from overseas. Storm Flag Flying, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2002 and winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, as not among the early nominees as trainer Shug McGaughey has said the filly will be pointed toward the May 2 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
A $5-million bonus will be paid to any horse that sweeps the three classic races--the May 3 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., the May 17 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore, Md., and the June 7 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. All three races are grade I.
"We are thrilled once again by the support of the worldwide Thoroughbred family for the Visa Triple Crown races and $5-million Visa Triple Crown Challenge," said Edward P. Seigenfeld, executive vice president of Triple Crown Productions. "A record number of early nominations underlines the popularity and international status of these three races. Much credit for these nominations go to the yeoman efforts of the nomination teams representing the three racetracks involved...It's been 25 years since Affirmed wore the most recent Triple Crown. Perhaps this is the year a new reign will begin."
In addition to Godolphin, the list of owners with international nominations includes Michael Tabor, who owned 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Thunder Gulch. Tabor has six nominations on his own, seven with frequent ownership partner Mrs. John Magnier,
and two others in partnership, giving him 15 total and tying him with Robert and Beverly Lewis for second honors among owners. The Lewises have won two Kentucky Derbys – Silver Charm in 1997 and Charismatic in 1999 – three Preakness Stakes, with Timber Country in 1995 and Silver Charm and Charismatic, and one Belmont Stakes, with Commendable in 2000. Third among the owners are Eugene and Laura Melnyk, with 12 nominations, followed by Dogwood Stable and Overbrook Farm, each with 11, and Mrs. Magnier, with nine.
The most nominations from a trainer were the 28 from Todd Pletcher, a former assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. Lukas, who signed up 23 prospects. Godolphin's Saeed bin Suroor is third on the list with 19 nominations, followed by Baffert's 17. Mark Hennig, another Lukas disciple, has 10 nominees. Adding up nominations from Pletcher, Lukas and Hennig gives the former Team Lukas a total of 61, which comes to 13 percent of the total number.
Lukas will be trying to enhance his already record-tying 13 victories in Triple Crown races, a distinction he shares with Hall of Fame trainer James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons.
A.P. Indy, winner of the 1992 Belmont Stakes and Horse of the Year, is tops among sires of early TC nominees with 16, followed by Storm Cat, with 15 nominees. He is followed by Touch Gold with 10, Deputy Minister and Unbridled with 9 each and Gentlemen, Saint Ballado, Seattle Slew and Tale of the Cat, each with eight.Click here for Complete Sortable List of 2003 Visa Triple Crown NomineesExpanded coverage from Louisville Courier-Journal