A total of 369 horses have been nominated to the 1991 Triple Crown races, ending several years of decline in the number of 3-year-olds made eligible by the first deadline.
The early nominations, which were due by Jan. 16 at a cost of $600 each, keep horses eligible for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The list, released yesterday, includes the active juvenile stars of 1990 -- Breeders' Cup winner Fly So Free, who made his 1991 debut yesterday with a victory in the Hutcheson Stakes; million-dollar earner Best Pal; and undefeated Meadow Star, one of eight fillies nominated.
Other notable candidates include To Freedom (second in yesterday's Hutcheson), Scan, Richman, Excavate and Cahill Road, a full brother of 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled.
Maryland's leading 3-year-old, Haymaker, is among 12 hopefuls who have trained or raced in the state, along with He Is Risen, Fire In Ice, Eugene Eugene, Colonel Hill and Good Scout. Sixteen of the candidates were bred in Maryland, third most behind Kentucky (197) and Florida (69). Virginia is fifth with 11.
The number of early nominations exceeded last year's total by 54 and reversed a downward trend. In 1986, 422 3-year-olds gained eligibility by the first deadline, followed by 398 in 1987, 381 in 1988 and 1989, and 315 in 1990.
This year, horses can be pledged through April 8 at a cost of $4,500, and for the first time the Triple Crown races will accept supplemental nominations. It works this way: Any horse who misses the first two deadlines can gain candidacy to the Triple Crown -- and its accompanying bonus -- with a payment of $150,000 before Derby entries close. After that, horses may be supplemented to the Preakness and Belmont for $100,000, or to the Belmont alone for $50,000, but those horses can earn no bonus money.
A sweep of the Triple Crown races -- something no horse has accomplished since Affirmed in 1978 -- is worth $5 million including purses. Short of that, the 3-year-old who compiles the most points on a 10-5-3-1 basis from first place to fourth will earn a $1 million bonus, providing he or she finishes each race. Flag-Waving Tail for 'Trail'
Ritchie Trail's tail waved red, white and blue, and her nose put owner-breeder Orme Wilson Jr. in the pink yesterday at Laurel.
The 3-year-old filly rallied from last place in the field of 10, found a hole between horses in the stretch and edged All Told by a fraction of an inch to win the $56,300 Gay Matelda Stakes. She paid $8 as the second betting choice.
With a clear lead in midstretch, All Told, ridden by Michael Luzzi, looked poised to end a slump for trainer Steve Casey. But Donnie Miller Jr. waited for an opening toward the inside, then sent Ritchie Trail through it to her second victory. Happily Ever After also ended strongly but finished a length behind the top two.
Ritchie Trail, who became the first offspring of Maryland-based Allen's Prospect to win an open stakes race, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46 4/5, with a small U.S. flag braided into her black tail. Trainer Charlie Hadry called it a show of support for allied troops in the Middle East.
"You don't want to lose sight of things," Hadry said after Ritchie Trail earned her biggest paycheck, $33,780. . . .
Fire Plug girded for the upcoming General George Stakes with another dauntless effort, winning a $35,000 allowance race by a head over Star Touch. The victory was his 27th in 49 tries -- he's been third or better 45 times -- and his 6 1/2-furlong time of 1:15 3/5 missed the track record by one-fifth second.