Getting your horse a Triple Crown nomination used to be so simple that connections to this year’s 3-year-old hopefuls nominated 326 horses to compete in the three American Classic races this spring.

Pletcher-Baffert Triple Crown
Between them, trainers Todd Pletcher (left) and Bob Baffert own eight Kentucky Derby victories. Pletcher (45) and Baffert (23) run 1-2 in early nominated horses for this year’s Triple Crown races. (Image: Doug Engle/Star-Banner/AP File)

Those 326 nominations represent a slight, 6.1% dip from last year’s 347 early nominees.

Those connections paid $600 during the early nomination period, which closed on Jan. 23. Now, the price of admission to run any Triple Crown race goes up. Any horses not nominated during that early period can buy their way in for $6,000. That late period ends March 29.

After that, the price really goes up. Making your horse Triple Crown eligible after March 29 requires a supplemental nomination fee at the time of entry for each race. It will cost you $200,000 for a Kentucky Derby entry, $150,000 for the Preakness Stakes, and $50,000 to enter the Belmont Stakes.

The American Classics Return to their Classic Times

This year’s Derby is May 1 at Churchill Downs. The Preakness runs at Pimlico Race Course two weeks later, on May 15. The Belmont wraps up the 2021 Triple Crown on June 5 at Belmont Park.

Leading the Triple Crown nomination parade is 2020’s 2-Year-Old Champion, Essential Quality. The two-time Grade 1 winner was one of 14 Brad Cox-trained horses nominated. Essential Quality, the William Hill Nevada Derby futures favorite at 7/1, is expected to run the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 15.

Last week, Cox won his first Eclipse Award as Champion Trainer. But, two-time Derby winner Todd Pletcher led all trainers in horses nominated, with 45. The name synonymous with Derby success – six-time winner Bob Baffert – has 23 nominated. Steve Asmussen, who owns more than 9,000 victories, but no Derbies, has 22. Chad Brown is fourth with 18.

Industry monolith Godolphin, which owns Essential Quality, leads individual owners with 11 nominations. Calumet Farm, one of Kentucky’s iconic farms, came in with 10 nominations.

No Surprise: Into Mischief Leads Another Category

Speaking of iconic, Into Mischief sired the most nominees with 20 of his offspring in the mix. Several of the usual sire suspects follow, including Curlin (14), Uncle Mo (14), and Constitution (13). Into Mischief sired last year’s Derby winner, Authentic. Constitution sired last year’s Belmont Stakes winner and Derby runner-up, Tiz the Law.

Speaking of the usual suspects, 42 stakes winners were nominated this year. These include the juveniles-turned-sophomores you recognize, including Brooklyn Strong, Caddo River, Capo Kane, Fire At Will, Jackie’s Warrior, Greatest Honour, Keepmeinmind, Life Is Good, Medina Spirit, Midnight Bourbon, Señor Buscador, Sittin On Go, and Spielberg, among others.

Conspicuous by their absence on that list are Conquer the World and Golden Whim. To date, neither of those two entered a starting gate in their careers. But, both are tied for the highest public auction purchase price of any nominee — $1.5 million. Conquer the World earned his notoriety at the 2019 Fasig Tipton August Sale. Golden Whim found his at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

Triple Crown Nominations Welcome Both Sexes

The nominees include 13 fillies, such as stakes winners Vequist and Simply Ravishing. Vequist won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies en route to being named Champion 2-Year-Old Filly. Simply Ravishing won the Grade 1 Ashland. If either runs, they’d be seeking the same hoofprint path as 2020 Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver.

Not surprisingly, Kentucky holds an overwhelming lead among the states, breeding 265 of the 326 nominated horses – 81.3%. New York is a distant second (17), followed by Florida (14). All told, 12 states claim at least one Triple Crown nominated horse.

Five horses based in Japan and 14 horses foaled outside the US drew nominations. Seven come from Canada, four from Ireland, and three foaled in Japan.