Five region-bred horses that appeared on the Experimental Free Handicap are among the 413 early nominees to the 2014 Triple Crown series.  Three others who ran in recent Laurel Park stakes also were nominated.

Overall, the number of nominees — 413 — is a sharp rise from a year ago, when 369 horses were nominated at this stage.  Horses can be nominated during the early nomination period for just $600; a second deadline, March 22, carries a $6,000 price tag.  The nomination allows a horse to run in all three Triple Crown races, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.

According to the Blood-Horse (here), 302 of the nominees were bred in Kentucky.  Virginia, with 13 nominees, and Pennsylvania (10) provided the third- and fifth-highest number of nominees, respectively.

According to the Jockey Club, “The Jockey Club Experimental Free Handicap, published annually since 1935, is a weight-based assessment of the previous year’s leading 2-year-olds, with the weights compiled for a hypothetical race at 1 1/16 miles on dirt.”

Eighteen region-bred horses — 11 males and seven fillies — appeared on the Experimental Free Handicap (here).  The region-bred horses to appear on the Handicap and be nominated to the Triple Crown were:

  • West Virginia-bred Giovanni Boldini, the Irish-based runner who finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf;
  • Virginia-bred Bond Holder, the winner of the Grade 1 FrontRunner at Santa Anita who was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile;
  • Noble Moon, another Virginia-bred, who recently won the Grade 2 Jerome at Aqueduct;
  • Pennsylvania-bred Storming Inti, who’s won four straight races, most recently the Kitten’s Joy on the turf at Gulfstream; and
  • Extrasexyhippzster, a Pennsylvania-bred who most recently won the Miracle Wood at Laurel Park.

Three other horses with recent stakes appearances at Laurel also were nominated.  These include:

  • Classic Giacnroll, who finished third in December’s Marylander Stakes before running second, behind Noble Moon, in the Jerome and most recently fourth in the Grade 2 Withers at Aqueduct;
  • Fleet Gold Digger, a Maryland-bred who finished fifth in December’s Maryland Juvenile Championship at Laurel and is slated to make his season debut on Wednesday in an allowance/optional claimer field that includes another nominee, Sonny Inspired, at Laurel; and
  • Master Lightning, who was most recently fourth the Miracle Wood and is part of trainer Todd Pletcher’s 42-horse battalion of nominees.

None of the seven region-bred fillies to be weighted on the Handicap was nominated to the Triple Crown.

The 413 nominees to the series represent approximately 1.6 percent of all Thoroughbred three year-olds — the highest percentage of the foal crop nominated to the series since the implementation of the current nomination system in 1986.  The previous high occurred last year, when 1.4 percent of the foal crop was nominated.