American Pharoah heads list of Eclipse Award finalists

American Pharoah with Victor Espinoza up won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday Oct. 31, 2015.
American Pharoah with Victor Espinoza up won the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday Oct. 31, 2015. Lexington

Triple Crown winner American Pharoah begins his second career in the breeding shed next month but figures to add a couple more effortless victories to his historic tally before then.

As expected, the champion son of Pioneerof the Nile headlined the slate of equine athletes up for year-end honors when the finalists for all 17 horse and human categories for the 2015 Eclipse Awards were announced Wednesday. In addition to being a finalist for champion 3-year-old male along with fellow Grade I winners Dortmund and Runhappy, American Pharoah is a slam dunk to be named Horse of the Year over fellow finalists Beholder and Runhappy.

Of the 281 eligible voters representing the NTRA, the NTWAB and Daily Racing Form, 261 (92.88 percent) took part in this year’s voting. Finalists were determined in each category by voters’ top three selections, using a 10-5-1 point basis. Eclipse Award winners are determined solely by first-place votes.

The winners of the 45th annual Eclipse Awards will be announced Jan. 16 at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla. While certain categories like champion 3-year-old filly and champion female sprinter figure to be contentious, American Pharoah locked up Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male honors thanks to his history-making campaign that saw him become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years and cap his career with a triumph in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Every grand superlative that could be uttered were exhausted last year as American Pharoah pulled off a feat accomplished by only 11 previous sophomore runners. He won seven of eight starts with a combined winning margin of 36 1/2 lengths, none more stirring than his 5 1/2 -length, gate-to-wire coronation in the Belmont Stakes which completed his sweep of the American classics.

His lone defeat in 2015 came in the Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 29 when he tired after being pressed by fellow Grade I winner Frosted and was caught in deep stretch by Keen Ice. American Pharoah’s storybook season would get one last celebratory moment, however, as he led every point of call in the Breeders’ Cup Classic en route to a 6 1/2 -length triumph.

Trained by Bob Baffert and owned/bred by Zayat Stables, American Pharoah retired to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud with nine wins from 11 career starts and $8,650,300 in earnings. Having been named the champion 2-year-old male last season, the bay colt is also slated to become the first juvenile champion male to take divisional honors at 3 since fellow Baffert trainee Lookin At Lucky in 2009 and 2010.

Baffert and Zayat Stables also stand to get individual accolades for their efforts in campaigning the 12th Triple Crown winner. Baffert, a three-time Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Trainer, is a finalist — and heavy favorite — in that category along with seven-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown.

Zayat Stables is a finalist for both Outstanding Owner and Outstanding Breeder along with Nicholasville-based Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who have swept both categories the last two seasons.

Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah’s regular rider, is also in the running for individual hardware joining two-time defending winner Javier Castellano and Irad Ortiz Jr. as finalists for Outstanding Jockey. Espinoza is seeking his first Eclipse Award.

Some mild surprises among the balloting included multiple Grade I winner Curalina not being included among the finalists for champion 3-year-old filly. Instead, Found — who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf in her lone U.S. start — will vie for the honor along with Grade I winners I’m a Chatterbox and Stellar Wind.

Champion Beholder, already the owner of two Eclipse Awards, stands to get a third as she towers over fellow finalists Stopchargingmaria and Sheer Drama in the champion Older Dirt Female category

While the Ramseys will have to overcome a powerful American Pharoah influence to dethrone Zayat Stables for champion owner and breeder, the venerable couple has a strong chance of taking the champion Turf Male category with multiple Grade I winner Big Blue Kitten, a likely favorite over fellow finalists Golden Horn and The Pizza Man.

The Ramseys also have homebred Stephanie’s Kitten as a finalist for champion Turf Female though that category is widely expected to go to multiple Grade I winner and Breeders’ Cup Mile heroine, Tepin.

While trainer Mark Casse wasn’t a finalist for Outstanding Trainer, Tepin represents one of three Eclipse Award finalists to come out of his barn. Fellow Casse-trainee Catch a Glimpse, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, is a finalist for champion 2-year-old filly — a category heavily favored to go to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Songbird — and Grade II winner Airoforce joins unbeaten Nyquist and Mohaymen as a finalist for champion 2-year-old male.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl

Eclipse Award finalists

(Listed in alphabetical order)

Horse of the Year: American Pharoah, Beholder, Runhappy

Two-Year-Old Male: Airoforce, Mohaymen, Nyquist

Two-Year-Old Filly: Catch a Glimpse, Rachel’s Valentina, Songbird

Three-Year-Old Male: American Pharoah, Dortmund, Runhappy

Three-Year-Old Filly: Found, I’m a Chatterbox, Stellar Wind

Older Dirt Male: Honor Code, Liam’s Map, Tonalist

Older Dirt Female: Beholder, Sheer Drama, Stopchargingmaria

Male Sprinter: Private Zone, Rock Fall, Runhappy

Female Sprinter: La Verdad, Lady Shipman, Wavell Avenue

Male Turf Horse: Big Blue Kitten, Golden Horn, The Pizza Man

Female Turf Horse: Found, Stephanie’s Kitten, Tepin

Steeplechase Horse: Bob Le Beau, Dawalan (FR), Demonstrative

Owner: Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, Zayat Stables

Breeder: Darley, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, Zayat Stables

Trainer: Bob Baffert, Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Javier Castellano, Victor Espinoza, Irad Ortiz, Jr.

Apprentice Jockey: Eric Cancel, Angel Cruz, Tyler Gaffalione