Triple Crown noms include 17 Midlantic-breds
Irish War Cry (inside) held off O Dionysus — both Triple Crown nominees — to win the Marylander Stakes on New Year’s Eve. Photo by Laurie Asseo.
by Frank Vespe
Seventeen horses bred in the mid-Atlantic region are among the 418 horses nominated to the Triple Crown series, it was announced Tuesday.
Among those 17 is Unique Bella, one of just five fillies nominated to the series.
The early nomination total represents a nearly 14 percent increase from the 368 early nominees last year. It also accounts for 1.9 percent of the Thoroughbred foal crop.
The roster of nominees includes last year’s juvenile champion Classic Empire. The Mark Casse trainee won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to cap his 2016 campaign.
The group includes six other Grade or Group 1 winners: Gormley, Huracan Americo, Klimt, Mastery, Practical Joke, and Pretty City Dancer.
Among the horses bred in the region, Unique Bella is the headliner. The daughter of Tapit, out of 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Unrivaled Belle, was bred in Pennsylvania by Brushwood Stable, which sold her at Keeneland’s 2015 September Yearling Sale for $400,000. She broke her maiden at second asking and followed that up with an eye-catching seven-length romp in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez at Santa Anita Park.
Unique Bella is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer for Don Alberto Stable.
Four other horses bred in the mid-Atlantic also are stakes winners, and a fifth is graded placed.
The most accomplished of this second group is the Hamilton Smith-trained Greatbullsoffire, a Bullsbay colt with two stakes wins – in the Maryland Million Nursery and the Maryland Juvenile Futurity. Greatbullsoffire was bred in Maryland by Sycamore Hall Thoroughbreds, LLC and is owned by Kathleen Willier.
Another Maryland-bred, O Dionysus, owns a win in the Christopher Elser Memorial Stakes. The Bodemeister colt was bred by Dark Hollow Farm and is trained by Gary Capuano for Marathon Farms. In addition to his stakes wins, he has tough-luck runner-up efforts in two other added-money events.
New Jersey-bred Irish War Cry has won both of his career starts and edged O Dionysus in his last to take the Marylander Stakes. A son of Curlin, he Is trained by Graham Motion for owner-breeder Isabelle de Tomaso.
Another Pennsylvania-bred, Downhill Racer, also owns a stake win, his coming in the Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes at Parx Racing. A Jump Start colt, he is trained by Jonathan Sheppard for Buttonwood Farm and was bred by Mr. and Mrs. Rodman Moorhead, III.
Finally, Bonus Points, bred in Maryland by Country Life Farm, has a graded placing to his credit, having run second in the Grade 3 Jerome at Aqueduct – oddly enough, behind the Maryland-based (but not -bred) El Areeb. The son of Majestic Warrior is trained by Todd Pletcher for Three Diamonds Farm.
Overall, nine of the nominees were bred in Maryland, with seven bred in Pennsylvania, and one in New Jersey. Kentucky led all states as the birthplace of 319 of the nominees, followed by Florida (25), California (11), and New York (11).
The Kentucky Derby, the first leg in the series, is scheduled for May 6 at Churchill Downs. The second leg, the Preakness Stakes, will take place two weeks later, on May 20, at Pimlico Race Course, with the final leg, the Belmont Stakes, slated for June 10.
Owners who did not make the early deadline can nevertheless nominate their horses, for a $6,000 fee, by March 20.