01/06/2015 10:05AM

2014 Eclipse Awards: Bayern

Susie Raisher

Rare is the horse who can hold his form from January through November, and rarer still the horse who does so in his first year on the track. But Bayern proved throughout 2014 that he was a rare talent, good enough to run in the biggest races in the spring, summer, and fall, traveling extensively, and saving his best for last.

Bayern did not make his debut until Jan. 4 but was fast-tracked to try to make it to the Kentucky Derby. He fell short of that goal and faltered in his lone try in a Triple Crown race, but he roared back later in the summer and fall, winning four of his last five races, most notably a game, and controversial, victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

In 10 starts, Bayern won six times, ranging in distances from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles, while racing at eight different tracks in seven states. He was the kind of horse who on Breeders’ Cup Day could have run in the Sprint, Dirt Mile, or Classic and been considered a leading contender in any one of them.

Bayern – by Offlee Wild out of the Thunder Gulch mare Alittlebitearly – was purchased as a 2-year-old in training at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale in Timonium, Md., in May 2013 for $320,000 by trainer Bob Baffert on behalf of owner Kaleem Shah, who named the colt after his favorite soccer team, Bayern Munich.

Bayern did not make it to the races until just after the new year, when sent off as the 4-5 favorite in a seven-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita. He rolled to a 3 1/4-length victory, but it was his next start, a 15-length romp in a first-level allowance going one mile at Santa Anita, that vaulted him onto the list of top prospects for the Kentucky Derby.

An ill-timed foot bruise caused Bayern to miss a start in March, and a Hail Mary attempt to make the Derby failed when he could only manage to finish third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.

Two weeks later, Bayern shortened up to a mile and crossed the wire first in the Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs, but he was disqualified for interference and placed second.

Bayern then tried Triple Crown company in the Preakness but broke poorly and was bothered on the first turn. He wound up ninth of 10. With three straight losses, his stock was sinking.

Bayern began his comeback on Belmont Stakes Day in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens at seven furlongs. He recorded his first stakes win in dazzling fashion, crushing his rivals by 7 1/2 lengths while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 108.

He returned to Del Mar and trained so smartly the first part of the summer that Baffert sent him to the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth, where again Bayern used his speed as a devastating weapon, winning by 7 1/4 lengths.

Bayern’s lone setback the second half of the year came in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga, where he began to fade midway through the race and wound up last of 10.

Back at Santa Anita, he worked so well that Baffert put him on a plane east for the third straight time, this time for the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx. As in the Haskell and Woody Stephens, his speed was lethal, and he cruised to a 5 3/4-length victory.

Bayern closed out the year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic by tenaciously holding off fellow 3-year-olds Toast of New York and California Chrome following a controversial start in which Bayern sharply veered in. Santa Anita’s stewards voted unanimously to let the result stand.

Bayern is scheduled to remain in training at age 4, with Shah stating that an early-season goal is the Dubai World Cup in March.