“A Triple Crown winner… a Breeders’ Cup winner… a horse of a lifetime!”
The Eclipse awards, which recognize the best horses and horsemen of the previous year, have honored a long list of legendary champions over the years, including Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Cigar, and Zenyatta. Following a poll of 261 members of the media, American Pharoah was honored as the unanimous choice for the 2015 Horse of the Year, becoming only the second horse in history to receive the award in unanimous fashion.
American Pharoah was also honored as the champion of his age division, being the unanimous choice for champion three-year-old male, and his success carried over to his human connections as well. Acknowledging the significance of racing the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, the voters awarded Bob Baffert the Eclipse award as outstanding trainer, while Zayat Stables took home honors as outstanding breeder and outstanding owner.
The only person associated with American Pharoah that did not win his respective category was Victor Espinoza, who finished second in the outstanding jockey category to Javier Castellano, a two-time previous Eclipse award winner who won more races and more purse money than any other North American jockey in 2015. Tyler Gaffalione, the up-and-coming 21-year-old rider that won 182 races in 2015, received the Eclipse award as outstanding apprentice jockey.
In the other horse categories, the remarkable mare Beholder made history by becoming champion older dirt female. She had previously won Eclipse awards as champion two-year-old filly of 2012 and champion three-year-old filly of 2013, making her the first mare to sweep these three awards since Cicada from 1961-1963. Honor Code, one of the last sons of the great stallion A.P. Indy, won the Eclipse award as champion older dirt male.
Among the younger horses, the talented California-based filly Stellar Wind was honored as champion three-year-old filly after winning four major races in 2015, including the Santa Anita Oaks. Nyquist, an undefeated colt that is among the early favorites for the 2016 Kentucky Derby, won the Eclipse award as champion two-year-old male, while Songbird—likewise unbeaten and the favorite to win the Kentucky Oaks—was honored as champion two-year-old filly.
One of the most satisfying championships was won by Big Blue Kitten, who had been expected to retire in 2015 before making an unexpected return to the races. Owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the seven-year-old Big Blue Kitten has been winning major races since 2012 but enjoyed his best season ever in 2015, setting a course record while winning the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and finishing a close third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Best of all, the Ramseys shared some exciting news at the Eclipse awards, announcing that legendary Calumet Farm has acquired Big Blue Kitten and will race him in 2016.
Tepin, the sensational filly that won the Breeders’ Cup Mile, took home the Eclipse award as champion turf female, while the brilliant Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Runhappy was voted champion male sprinter. Champion female sprinter went to La Verdad, the very consistent and speedy mare that finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, while the champion steeplechase horse was Dawalan, who thrilled his fans with a hard-fought win in the Grand National Hurdle Stakes.
Best of all for racing fans, many of the Eclipse award champions will be back in 2016. Only American Pharoah, Honor Code, and La Verdad have been retired from racing, and even La Verdad is expected to run once more before becoming a broodmare.
Particularly exciting is the return of Beholder, who has the 2016 Breeders’ Cup—and a fourth Eclipse award—among her 2016 goals. As great as 2015 was for horse racing, 2016 might be even better!
J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and racing enthusiast who considers Zenyatta to be his all-time favorite racehorse. He is the founder of the horse racing website TheTurfBoard.com and writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.