01/06/2016 11:34AM

2015 Eclipse Awards: American Pharoah

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Barbara D. Livingston

American Pharoah had a campaign for the ages in 2015, becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years and going out an emphatic winner when facing elders for the first time in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Though there are other finalists for Eclipse Awards for 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year, we all know that’s just background noise. Tonight is his night, and deservedly so.

:: 2015 Eclipse Awards: Finalist profiles

American Pharoah was the champion 2-year-old male of 2014, but an injury delayed his comeback at the beginning of 2015. He could nary afford a false step in his works or his preps just to make the Kentucky Derby, let alone win the Triple Crown.

But the combination of his raw talent and the skill of trainer Bob Baffert produced a horse good enough to win both the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park before heading to Churchill Downs as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. American Pharoah had a stern challenge that day from Firing Line and stablemate Dortmund, but he prevailed in the closing yards.

That hard race seemed to propel him forward, for American Pharoah seemed to get better as the Triple Crown progressed. At Pimlico, in a torrential downpour and with lightning strikes a little too close for comfort, American Pharoah splashed his way to victory, becoming the 14th horse since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978 to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Of the previous 13, 12 made it to the Belmont. All lost.

But American Pharoah tipped his hand that this would be different. His final workout prior to the Belmont, at Churchill Downs, was sensational. He galloped with enthusiasm after arriving in New York, as though the grind of the Triple Crown was a fly he was swatting away with his tail.

And then before a crowd of nearly 90,000 and millions watching worldwide, American Pharoah cruised to victory in the Belmont, setting off a joyous celebration, the roar from the crowd lasting well after jockey Victor Espinoza brought American Pharoah up the stretch for a curtain call.

American Pharoah then ran in the biggest races available during the second half of the year, shipping to all of them from his base in California. At Monmouth Park, he made a mockery of his rivals in the Haskell. At Saratoga, in the Travers, he suffered his lone loss of the year when yielding to Keen Ice after an early battle with Frosted.

Because of the spacing of the races, American Pharoah then had to come into the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland without a race in two months, while going 1 1/4 miles and facing an accomplished group of older horses. He made it all look too easy, with a dominating performance. He won seven of eight races during the year and nine of 11 during his career. American Pharoah, a son of Pioneerof the Nile and the Yankee Gentleman mare Littleprincessemma, was bred and is owned by the Zayat Stables of Ahmed Zayat and his son, Justin. Ahmed Zayat had entered American Pharoah in the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale in August 2013 but chose not to part with the colt and bought him back for $300,000, and the rest is racing history.

American Pharoah was retired after the Breeders’ Cup to Coolmore America’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky, where he is marking time until the breeding season begins next month.