Big Step Toward the First Saturday In May

2015 Kentucky DerbyA notable date on the journey to the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown races arrives on Saturday, Jan. 31 with the release of the names of 3-year-old Thoroughbreds that are early nominees to the Run for the Roses, and the elusive three-race series of spring classics.

The early nomination phase for the Triple Crown races ended last Saturday at midnight. The nomination of each horse for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes was required to be accompanied by a $600 nomination fee.

Last week’s deadline is not the last chance to make a promising young star eligible to run in the Derby and other Triple Crown events, but the Derby winner has,  to this point, always been part of that early group of nominees.

A late nomination phase, now underway, allows owners and trainers to make late-blooming horses eligible to run with the payment of a $6,000 fee by March 23.   And there’s always a last gasp opportunity to make your horse a supplemental nominee at the time of entry for this year’s Derby on Wednesday morning, April 29. The supplemental nomination requires payment of a $200,000 fee.

Owners have a chance to earn those fees back in the $2 million Derby on May 2, or by grabbing big chunks of the respective $1.5 million purses available in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Still, the release of the roster of Triple Crown nominees and the fact that the Derby Day countdown dropped below the 100-day mark, late week, add urgency to the process of preparing a young star for the spring classics.

You only get one chance at the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The races are restricted to 3-year-old Thoroughbreds, and things need to go very well between now and Derby Day to continue the chase of the Derby and Triple Crown dreams.

Certain to be on that roster of nominated 3-year-olds released on Saturday is Ralph M. Evans Upstart, a romping winner of the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes last Saturday at Gulfstream Park.  A son of Claiborne Farm stallion Flatter based in New York, Upstart had finished third to Texas Red and Carpe Diem in last fall’s Grade I Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.

Upstart won by 5 1/2 lengths under jockey Jose Ortiz for trainer Rick Violette Jr. In doing so, he underscored the dominance of reigning 2-year-old champion American Pharaoh, who is back in training in Southern California after missing the Breeders’ Cup race with a foot injury. Texas Red had chased, but never threatened, the Bob Baffert-trained American Pharaoh in Southern California prior to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Louisville-born trainer Dale Romans saw one of his young stars emerge as a possible major player for the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks on May 1 at Churchill Downs when Forum Racing’s Birdathewire rallied from far back for an upset victory in the $200,000 Grade II Forward Gal, also at Gulfstream Park. Romans is also the trainer of the Forward Gal’s third-place finisher, Taylor S.

While looking ahead to this year’s Kentucky Derby and Oaks, fans of the winners of last year’s signature races at Churchill Downs continue to receive encouraging news about those stars.

Kentucky Derby winner and 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome worked one mile on Sunday at Southern California’s Los Alamitos. He is set for his 4-year-old in the $500,000 San Antonio on Feb. 7 at Santa Anita.

The San Antonio is circled on a many calendars as California Chrome is expected to face Shared Belief in that race. The Kentucky Derby winner finished a strong third to Bayern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, while Shared Belief, the 2-year-old champion of 2013, finished fourth and suffered his first career-loss after being compromised at break by an erratic start by the winner.

It looked at one time that Bayern would join that high-powered duo in the San Antonio, but trainer Bob Baffert has all but ruled out that race, as the colt recovers from a foot abscess.

Untapable, winner of the 2014 Kentucky Oaks and the year’s champion 3-year-old, turned in her first serious work of the New Year on Monday, Jan. 26. The daughter of Tapit breezed four furlongs at New Orelans’ Fair Grounds.