The 2021 Triple Crown attracted a total of 326 nominations by the early deadline of Jan. 23, including unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champion Essential Quality and his filly counterpart, Vequist.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who celebrated a record-equaling sixth Kentucky Derby (G1) victory in 2020, has 23 engaged, second only to Todd Pletcher’s 45 nominees. Leading Baffert’s squad is early favorite Life Is Good, by Into Mischief who tops all sires with 20 sophomores nominated.
Among other Baffert nominees are Medina Spirit, runner-up to Life Is Good in the Sham (G3) before taking the Robert B. Lewis (G3); Concert Tour, set to make his stakes debut in Saturday’s San Vicente (G2); and Bezos, who was an individual interest in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager despite being unraced. Also yet to race is Triple Tap, a Tapit half-brother to Baffert’s 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Chad Brown has the half-brother to 2018 Triple Crown sweeper Justify, Stage Raider, among his 18 nominees.
The Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality is part of an 11-strong entry for Sheikh Mohammed’s elite Godolphin operation, along with Prevalence, a smashing debut romper for Brendan Walsh; Mike Stidham’s Lecomte second Proxy; well-regarded maiden winner Speaker’s Corner, yet to work back this year for Bill Mott; Rebel’s Romance, currently in Dubai with Charlie Appleby; and Lemon Pop, second on the Japan Road leaderboard behind Alain Barows. While seven Japanese-based horses overall were nominated, there are none in Europe at the moment, and conspicuously absent is Aidan O’Brien.
Vequist is one of 13 fillies nominated, a number perhaps inspired by champion filly Swiss Skydiver’s hard-fought verdict in last year’s Preakness (G1). Swiss Skydiver’s trainer, Ken McPeek, nominated Simply Ravishing. Two of Pletcher’s bumper crop of nominees are undefeated fillies, Malathaat and scorer Zaajel. Other high-profile females engaged are Lady Speightspeare, Clairiere, and Souper Sensational.
The Triple Crown is scheduled to return to its normal programming in 2021, after the COVID-19 pandemic scrambled the order of the three classics last season. The 147th Kentucky Derby will take place on May 1, the time-honored first Saturday in May. The May 15 Preakness resumes its role as the Middle Jewel, and the Belmont S. (G1) is once more the conclusion as the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion” on June 5.
Total nominations were down 6.1% from 2020, when 347 were made eligible during the early stage for a $600 payment. Sophomores may be added during the late stage until Monday, Mar. 29, at a cost of $6,000. A non-nominated horse can still be supplemented, for a much stiffer fee, due at the time of entry for each Triple Crown race: the Kentucky Derby ($200,000), Preakness ($100,000) and Belmont ($50,000).