Edited Press Release
Classic Empire, the champion two-year-old of 2016 and winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), heads an international roster of 418 three-year-olds made eligible during the early nomination phase to compete in the classic races of the 2017 American Triple Crown: the $2 million Kentucky Derby (G1), the $1.5 million Preakness (G1) and the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1).
The Mark Casse-trained Classic Empire, a unanimous choice among voters of the Eclipse Award that honored America’s juvenile champion, heads an international roster of early Triple Crown-eligible horses that also includes fast-rising filly Unique Bella among five females nominated and 18 nominees based outside of North American, a total that includes a record nine horses based in Japan.
The 2017 Triple Crown series opens on May 6 with the 143rd running of the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The 142nd Preakness, the 1 3/16-mile second jewel, is set for May 20 at Pimlico. The 149th running of the Belmont Stakes, its 1 1/2-mile final leg, is scheduled for June 10 at Belmont Park.
The early nomination total for the three-race series is an increase of 13.6 percent from 2016, when the early phase of Triple Crown attracted 368 horses. An additional nine Thoroughbreds were made eligible during the late nomination period to raise the overall 2016 nomination total to 377. The 2017 nomination total represents 1.9 percent of an estimated foal crop of 22,300.
Owners and trainers of promising three-year-olds were required to pay a fee of $600 to make their young stars eligible to compete in the Triple Crown series during the early nomination period, which concluded at 11:59 p.m. (EST) on January 14. A late nomination period, which requires the payment of $6,000 for each nominated three-year-old, is now underway and continues through March 20.
The Kentucky Derby field has been limited to 20 starters since 1975 and the horses that enter the starting gate for its 2016 renewal will again be determined by points earned in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” eligibility system, which debuted in 2013. If entries to the Derby total more than the maximum field of 20, up to four “also eligible” entrants will be permitted. If one or more entrants scratch from the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field prior to 9 a.m. (EDT) on May 5, the also-eligible horse or horses with highest preference in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” system assume the empty stalls in the starting gate.
The Preakness is limited to 14 starters, while the Belmont Stakes permits a maximum field of 16 horses.
Three-year-olds that were not nominated to the Triple Crown during either the early or late nomination phases have a final opportunity to become eligible for the races through payment of a supplemental nomination fee. Due at the time of entry for either the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes, the supplemental fee process makes a horse eligible for the remainder of the Triple Crown series. A supplemental nomination at the time of entry to the Kentucky Derby requires payment of $200,000. The fee is $150,000 if paid prior to the Preakness or $75,000 at time of entry to the Belmont Stakes.
Churchill Downs adjusted its entry process in 2014 to permit horses that are made supplemental nominations prior to the Kentucky Derby to be treated the same as original nominees. If one or more supplemental nominees possess sufficient “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points to qualify for the Derby field, they will be allowed to start over original nominees that possess lesser qualifications. Under its previous policy, Churchill Downs gave preference in all cases to early and late Triple Crown nominees.