01/06/2016 12:14PM

Eclipse Awards: American Pharoah a shoo-in for two trophies

Barbara D. Livingston
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, shown winning the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland, is a finalist for Eclipse Awards as Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male.

American Pharoah dominated racing in 2015, and he and those connected to him dominated the voting to determine the Eclipse Award finalists for 2015, which were announced Wednesday.

American Pharoah – who swept the Triple Crown, beat elders in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and won seven times in eight starts last year – is a finalist for Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male, both of which he is certain to win, and trainer Bob Baffert, jockey Victor Espinoza, and owner and breeder Zayat Stables are finalists in their respective categories.

The three finalists in all 17 Eclipse Award categories, both equine and human, were revealed Wednesday morning on Xpressbet.com. The finalists – the top three vote getters in each division – were determined by votes cast by members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, whose bloc includes racing officials and field personnel of Equibase. Of the 281 eligible voters, 261 returned ballots.

:: 2015 Eclipse Awards: Finalist profiles

Voting closed on Saturday. Voters were asked to select the top three in each division to determine the finalists; there is no revote to determine the winners of the awards. The votes from all those organizations are pooled, and the person or horse with the most first-place votes in their respective division will be declared the champion Jan. 16 at the 45th annual Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park.

American Pharoah, the champion 2-year-old male of 2014, last year became the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown and the first since Affirmed in 1978. He is seeking to become the first horse since Affirmed to win divisional titles at ages 2 and 3 along with being named Horse of the Year at age 3.

Beholder, the overwhelming favorite to be named champion older dirt female, and Runhappy, the favorite to be named champion male sprinter, are the other finalists for Horse of the Year.

Runhappy also joined American Pharoah as a finalist for champion 3-year-old male, along with Dortmund, who, like American Pharoah, is trained by Baffert. Not making the cut as a finalist for 3-year-old male was Travers Stakes winner Keen Ice, the only horse who beat American Pharoah last year.

Although they have no chance of toppling American Pharoah for Horse of the Year, both Beholder and Runhappy look like slam dunks in their specialties.

Beholder, who won all five of her starts last year and beat males in the Pacific Classic, is a finalist for champion older dirt female along with Sheer Drama and Stopchargingmaria. If she wins, Beholder would be a three-time champion, having captured titles at ages 2 and 3.

Runhappy, a three-time Grade 1 winner last year, looks to be the heavy favorite to be named champion male sprinter over fellow finalists Private Zone and Rock Fall.

Baffert is a finalist for champion trainer along with Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, those three trainers having won more purse money and Grade 1 races than their brethren.

Espinoza has yet to win an Eclipse Award as champion jockey, and to do so, he’ll have to topple Javier Castellano, who has won the title the last two years and in 2015 set a single-season earnings record. Irad Ortiz Jr. is the other finalist. Not making the cut was John Velazquez, who finished third in earnings and tied for second in Grade 1 wins.

Zayat Stables – owned by Ahmed Zayat and managed by his son, Justin – bred and owned American Pharoah, whose $8,288,800 in prize money in 2015 helped put the Zayats atop the earnings table for both owners and breeders and has put them in position to be named champions in those categories.

The other finalists for champion owner are Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Ramsey Stables – whose best runners were the homebreds Stephanie’s Kitten, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and Big Blue Kitten – and the Midwest Thoroughbreds of Richard and Karen Papiese, whose best runner was the homebred Grade 1 winner The Pizza Man. Not making the top three was Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing, which finished third in purse earnings behind the Zayats and the Ramseys.

The Ramseys also are finalists against the Zayats for champion breeder. The other finalist is Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley, which finished third behind the Zayats and the Ramseys in earnings.

In addition to American Pharoah, Beholder, Runhappy, the Zayats and the Ramseys, the only other multiple finalist is Found, who in her lone start in this country beat older males in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. She is up for both champion female turf horse and 3-year-old filly.

The other female turf finalists – a particularly strong division – are Tepin, who beat males in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, and Stephanie’s Kitten, meaning all three finalists in this category won a Breeders’ Cup race.

By contrast, the 3-year-old filly division never had a standout. Found ended up a finalist along with I’m a Chatterbox and Stellar Wind. Notables who did not make the top three were two-time Grade 1 winner Curalina – who held a 2-1 edge over I’m a Chatterbox in head-to-head meetings, including a victory by disqualification in the Coaching Club American Oaks – as well as Kentucky Oaks winner Lovely Maria, another two-time Grade 1 winner, and turf star Lady Eli.

Another diffuse category is female sprinter, in which Lady Shipman, La Verdad, and Wavell Avenue – who won the division’s Breeders’ Cup race – are the finalists.

Big Blue Kitten, Golden Horn, and The Pizza Man – all of whom finished behind Found in the BC Turf – are the finalists in the male turf category. Golden Horn, the winner of the Epsom Derby and Arc de Triomphe, made his lone start in this country when second in the BC Turf, so he has a chance to win a divisional title without a victory in this country. Not making the top three was Arc runner-up Flintshire, who won the Sword Dancer in his lone start in this country.

The older dirt male finalists are Honor Code, Liam’s Map, and Tonalist, each of whom won a pair of Grade 1 races during the year. The only time they all met in the same race, Honor Code nosed out Liam’s Map in the Whitney, with Tonalist third. Not making the top three were Clark Handicap winner Effinex, the runner-up to American Pharoah in the BC Classic, and the late Shared Belief, who was the best horse in training early in 2015 after his victory in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Nyquist and Songbird, both unbeaten Breeders’ Cup race winners, are certainties to win Eclipse Awards in their respective divisions.

Nyquist, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, is a finalist for top 2-year-old male along with Airoforce and Mohaymen. Curiously absent from the top three is Swipe, who finished second to Nyquist in four stakes, three of them Grade 1 races, including the BC Juvenile. Also not making the cut was Hit It a Bomb, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

Songbird, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, is a finalist for champion 2-year-old filly along with BC Juvenile Fillies runner-up Rachel’s Valentina and Catch a Glimpse, the winner of the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Defending champion Demonstrative is a finalist again for the Eclipse Award as the best steeplechase horse, along with Bob Le Beau and Dawalan.

The finalists for top apprentice jockey are Eric Cancel, Angel Cruz, and Tyler Gaffalione, who were the leaders in purse earnings for the year.