ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 6, 2016)–Led by the Triple Crown Championship team of American Pharoah, Bob Baffert, Victor Espinoza and (owner/breeder) Zayat Stables, Santa Anita-based connections are positioned to have a big night on Jan. 16, when the 45th annual Eclipse Awards gala will be held at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale Beach, Florida.
A winner of his final race as a juvenile, Santa Anita’s Grade I, FrontRunner Stakes on Sept. 27, 2014, American Pharoah wintered at Santa Anita as he prepared for a pair of victories at Oaklawn en route to becoming America’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Following a narrow defeat in the Grade I Travers Stakes Aug. 29, “Pharoah” returned to The Great Race Place and was readied by Baffert for a resounding 6 ½ length win in his career finale–the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland Oct. 31.
Spendthrift Farm’s Beholder, who began her 2015 campaign with a victory in Santa Anita’s Santa Lucia Stakes April 10, would go on to win the Grade III Adoration Stakes here on June 13, and three consecutive Grade I’s; the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar Aug. 1, the Pacific Classic (versus males) Aug. 22, and Santa Anita’s Zenyatta Stakes on Sept. 26. Trained by Richard Mandella, Beholder, who is now age six, has won two lifetime Eclipse Awards and is nominated in two categories–Older Dirt Female and Horse of the Year.
Baffert, who in the opinion of many, may have done his finest-ever work in guiding American Pharoah, who was forced to miss the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile due to a minor injury, through a Triple Crown winning season and ultimately victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will be trying to win his fourth career Eclipse, following up on his three-peat in 1997, ’98 & ’99.
Espinoza, who not only became racing’s first Triple Crown Champion Jockey since Steve Cauthen in 1978, but helped to “mainstream” the Sport of Kings by virtue of multiple appearances on national shows such as The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America, Dancing With the Stars and others, also endeared himself to millions as a result of his charitable work with City of Hope, a national leader in cancer treatment and research.
Nominated in both the owner and breeder categories, Zayat Stables, which also bred American Pharoah’s sire, Pioneerof the Nile, saw their stable superstar win seven out of eight starts in 2015, which accounted for a staggering $8,288,800 in earnings. Headed by Ahmad Zayat, Zayat Stables seeks its first-ever Eclipse Award.
Undefeated in four starts, Jerry Hollendorfer’s Songbird, who used Santa Anita’s Grade I Chandelier Stakes on Sept. 26 as a steppingstone to a rousing 5 ¾ length win in the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Oct. 31, headquartered at Santa Anita for most of 2015 and is considered an odds-on favorite to be named Eclipse Champion 2-year-old filly. Owned by Fox Hill Farms, Inc., Songbird, a Kentucky-bred filly by Medaglia d’Oro, has earnings of $1,502,000.
Reddam Racing’s undefeated Nyquist, who was a first-out maiden winner going five furlongs at Santa Anita on June 5, went on to register wins in the Grade II Best Pal Stakes, Grade I Del Mar Futurity and Santa Anita’s Grade I FrontRunner Stakes en route to his half length length victory in the Grade I Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Oct. 31. Trained by Doug O’Neill, Nyquist amassed earnings of $1,613,600.