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Derby, Triple Crown Nominations Out

The roster of 3-year-old Thoroughbreds made eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown races arrived on my desk for inspection last Thursday, and the list was released to the media and the public on Saturday afternoon.

In the hours between those two events, two significant early contenders for the three-race series were removed from consideration because of injury.

Calculator, who chased reigning 2-year-old champion American Pharoah last fall and won the recent Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, suffered an undisclosed injury during a Saturday workout at Santa Anita.  He is expected to be out of action for trainer Peter Miller for about six months. On Thursday, trainer Chad Brown reported that Leave the Light On, winner of Aqueduct’s Grade II Remsen, had suffered an ankle injury in training and would likely be out of action until the fall.

Juvenile filly champion Take Charge Brandi is one of 14 horses nominated by four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas. Photo by REED PALMER | Churchill Downs

Juvenile filly champion Take Charge Brandi is one of 14 horses nominated by four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas. Photo by REED PALMER | Churchill Downs

Those defections from the Kentucky Derby trail were early reminders that one can never get comfortable with a 3-year-old that is taking aim on racing’s spring classics. Even after the maximum field of 20 horses is entered for the Run for the Roses on the Wednesday before Derby, we will – in most years – see a defection or two from the field in those final 72 hours.

We’ll wish Calculator and Leave the Light On the best as they head to their off-the-track rest, and hope they’ll be back in time to participate in Keeneland’s first Breeders’ Cup Championships October. As we do so, we’ll celebrate the fact that all the right names, at least those most prominent 3-year-olds at this point, were on the list of 429 horses nominated to the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes when the early nomination phase closed on Jan. 17.

The early nomination total rose by 15 horses over last year’s tally of 414, an increase achieved despite years of declining crops of U.S. Thoroughbred foals. It’s fairly safe to say the ongoing interest is a testament to the magical allure of the romance of the Derby and the Triple Crown. The success of California Chrome, 2014’s rags-to-riches winner of the Derby and Preakness and the eventual Horse of the Year, could and should also be credited for some of the positive mojo.

Among nominators, the leading owner offered a nod to Derby and Triple Crown history as famed Calumet Farm, now under the new ownership of Brad Kelley, made 15 horses eligible.  Calumet has 18 Triple Crown wins to its credit, with individual records of eight wins apiece in the Derby and Preakness, and a pair of Belmont wins in Triple Crown-clinching triumphs by Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948).

Todd Pletcher. Courtesy Phoo.

Todd Pletcher. Courtesy Phoo.

Todd Pletcher, who this year will celebrate the fifth anniversary of his victory in the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver, nominated 34 horses to the three-race series. That’s seven below his 2014 early nomination total, but well ahead of the 24 nominees trained by closest rival Chad Brown.   

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, with four Derby wins to his credit and a record 14 triumphs in Triple Crown races, nominated 14 horses to the 2015 series. Among the 79-year-old racing legend’s nominees is the reigning champion 2-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi, who is being pointed toward the Kentucky Oaks – a race Lukas has also won four times.

Leading sires among the nominees are no surprise and include Tapit (14), two-time Horse of the Year Curlin (12), Tiznow and Giant’s Causeway. Lurking just below the top group with nine nominees is 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, who is off to a wonderful start in the breeding shed and his first crop is now eligible for the Triple Crown.

The most expensive sales purchase, $1.7 million Keeneland September yearling purchase Cyrus Alexander, is winless in four starts, but still trying.

And for dreamers everywhere, two names: Cozmic One, a son of 2009 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, and Jess’s Dream, the first foal from 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, are nominated.  But neither son of the female superstars has a race to his credit.

Many horses have much to do with fewer than 90 days until Kentucky Derby Day. VT