Sunday, February 2, 2003

Record number nominated for Triple Crown races

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A record 446 thoroughbreds were nominated for the 2003 Triple Crown races, with trainer Todd Pletcher leading the charge with 28 3-year-olds.

Each owner paid $600 to make his horse eligible to compete in the Triple Crown, which begins with the Kentucky Derby on May 3 and is followed by the Preakness on May 17 and the Belmont Stakes on June 7.

Dubai-based Godolphin Racing Inc., operated by Sheik Mohammed, led owners with 19 nominations, all of whom are trained by Saeed bin Suroor.

Other trainers with multiple nominations include Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas with 23, Bob Baffert with 17 and Ken McPeek with 11.

Lukas has a record-matching 13 wins in Triple Crown races, Baffert has eight and McPeek won his first last year with Sarava, who took the Belmont Stakes at record odds of 70-1.

Pletcher, with Indy Dancer and Lion Tamer among his 2003 entourage, is looking for his first win in a Triple Crown race.

Among the early nominations are Vindication, Baffert's undefeated champion 2-year-old colt who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, undefeated Sky Mesa and Ireland-based Hold That Tiger.

The 446 early nominations tops the previous record of 440 set in 2001, and marks the third straight year the total has topped 400.

There are 422 colts, 19 geldings and five fillies among the nominees. Kentucky is the leading state for American born nominees with 322. Ireland tops the rest of the world with 12.

Early nominations closed Jan. 18. There's a late nomination closing date of March 29, and the fee increases to $6,000. Including late nominations, the record is 452 set in 1986.

Led by the Godolphin contingent, a total of 38 foreign horses were nominated.

Baffert looks to have one of the strongest stables, led by Vindication. Among other 3-year-olds in his barn are Domestic Dispute, Kafwain and the filly Composure.

The Visa Triple Crown Challenge offers a $5 million bonus for any horse who sweeps all three races.

It's been 25 years since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner, but Baffert has come close three times and Lukas once since 1997.

Last year, the Baffert-trained War Emblem won the Derby and Preakness but stumbled at the start of the Belmont and finished eighth. His other near-misses came in 1997 with Silver Charm and 1998 with Real Quiet. In '99, the Lukas-trained Charismatic won the Derby and Preakness but fell short in the Belmont.

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