01/06/2015 10:59AM

2014 Eclipse Awards: American Pharoah

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Before he was able to delight in winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic with Bayern, trainer Bob Baffert wallowed in despair for most of the week after having to scratch his top 2-year-old, American Pharoah, from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile due to injury.

On Oct. 28, four days before the Juvenile was to be run at Santa Anita, Baffert announced that American Pharoah was off and would be scratched due to what was ultimately diagnosed as a deep foot bruise.

At a press conference that morning, a devastated Baffert said, “We all saw the way he was training. He’s something special. I hadn’t had a colt like this in a long time. It’s a pretty tough pill to swallow. He’s going to be okay, but it’s just the timing. It’s a killer. It’s the most disappointing thing coming up to a race for a scratch like this I’ve ever been through.”

Despite missing the Juvenile, American Pharoah’s Grade 1 victories in the Del Mar Futurity – as a maiden – and the FrontRunner Stakes earned him a spot as a finalist for the Eclipse Award as North America’s champion 2-year-old. Were he to win the award, American Pharoah would be just the fifth 2-year-old in the three-decade Breeders’ Cup era who did not run in the Juvenile to be crowned champion. That list includes Shared Belief, the juvenile champion of 2013.

American Pharoah is a Zayat Stables homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile out of the Yankee Gentleman mare Littleprincessemma. The Zayats put him through the Fasig-Tipton sales ring at Saratoga in the summer of 2013 but bought him back through their agent, David Ingordo, when he didn’t meet his $500,000 reserve.

American Pharoah was highly touted for his Aug. 9 debut at Del Mar, but after dueling on the lead, he faded to fifth as the 7-5 favorite. He wore blinkers for his first start.

“His first race, he was just all over the place,” Baffert said. “He was misbehaving in the paddock ... I think the blinkers had a lot do with it. After that one race, we just schooled him vigorously, and we still school him a lot. He’s settled down. Now, he’s a quiet horse. He behaves himself, acts very professional.”

He certainly was professional in the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 3. After breaking a step slowly from the rail, American Pharoah quickly took command and strode clear to a 4 3/4-length victory. In becoming Baffert’s 12th Del Mar Futurity winner, American Pharoah joined Go West Young Man (1977) and River Special (1992) as the only maidens to win the race in its 67-year history.

“I knew he was going to run well, but I didn’t know he’d so something like that,” Baffert said.

American Pharoah duplicated that performance in the FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 27, his first start around two turns. After being challenged by Calculator – the horse who finished second to him in the Del Mar Futurity – American Pharoah ran away from that rival in the stretch to win by 3 1/4 lengths.

Texas Red, who finished third in the FrontRunner, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, for which American Pharoah had been made the morning-line favorite Oct. 27, only to be scratched less than 24 hours later.

American Pharoah started jogging Jan. 3 at Santa Anita, and his connections hope there is still time to get him on the Kentucky Derby trail. A potential first target for him could be the Grade 2, $400,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita on March 7.