Record Number of Horses Nominated for Kentucky Derby, Pletcher in Control

This week's legal horse betting update shows a record number of thoroughbreds nominated for the storied Kentucky Derby. Boasting the largest number of nominees since 2008, the 413 early possibilities for the Triple Crown series is up 9% over the 382 horses nominated this time last year. The 2014 Kentucky Derby begins May 3, with the Preakness (May 17) and the Belmont (June 7) rounding out the three most important thoroughbred horse races in 2014. A late nomination, which closes March 22, costs $6,000 per horse, with this early nomination stage setting owners back only $600 per horse. Trainer Todd Pletcher boasts a full 10.2% of the Kentucky Derby nominee field, with 42 horses nominated.

This time of year, owners and trainers begin to form a plan for their horses. The stronger thoroughbreds become groomed for the Kentucky Derby and a potential Triple Crown push, and several strong performers this past weekend made their cases as Las Vegas odds on favorites to win The Run for the Roses. At Aqueduct, the February 1 $250,000 Grade III Withers Stakes showcased two strong horses raised in New York, Samraat and Uncle Sigh. Showing strength down the back stretch and taking the win was Uncle Sigh, with Samraat close behind and no other thoroughbred offering any promise. With a win and two seconds in just three starts, the Indian Charlie colt Uncle Sigh under trainer Rick Violette is probably headed to Gotham on March 1. But another matchup with Samraat is also possible in the Grade I Wood Memorial on April 5.

Down on Florida's Gulf Coast, the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs was the home to another memorable stretch battle. Long-shot Vinceremos (12 to 1) took the lead on the back stretch, finishing just a nose ahead of the late charging Kentucky Derby nominee Harpoon. Cousin Stephen finished third, with Edgar Prado riding Viceremos for trainer Todd Pletcher, who also trains the second place Harpoon.

Wildcat Red was the walkaway class of the field in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfsteam Park. Cee Z ran second and Pablo Del Monte finished in third. Trainer Jose Garoffalo is planning on the Fountain of Youth for Red, considering the fact that Cairo Prince is probably going to skip that 1 1/16-mile event. After registering a maiden win on December 29 on the same track, Fashion Plate led all the way in a mild upset during the $300,000 Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita. The filly bested the previously unbeaten Kentucky Derby nominee Streaming. Trainer Simon Callaghan said if Fashion Plate runs well at Santa Anita Oaks, a trip to the Kentucky Derby may be in the cards.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert claims 18 early nominees for the Kentucky Derby this year, with 13 offered by Steve Asmussen and 12 from D. Wayne Lukas. Though Pletcher trains 1 in every 10 out of this early nomination field, he has in the past only claimed three winners of Triple Crown races - filly Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont Stakes, Super Saver won the 2010 Kentucky Derby and Palace Malice took the 2013 Belmont. Havana, Cairo Prince and Honor Code are the early Kentucky Derby points leaders with 14 each, and have to be considered favorites for The Run for the Roses at this point. Tapiture (12 points) and Bond Holder (11) have also run well so far, with Samraat, Noble Moon, Ami's Holiday, Rise Up, We Miss Artie, Vicar's in Trouble, Cleburne, Tanzanite Cat and Midnight Hawk all having earned 10 Kentucky Derby points each.

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