Wise Dan made the most of being a late bloomer.
The 5-year-old gelding easily beat out I'll Have Another for Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards on Saturday night.
Wise Dan won five of six starts in 2012, winning the Breeders' Cup Mile in course-record time and two other Grade I turf stakes.
"I can't tell you why, or people say, `What have you done?' It's just the horse,'' trainer Charlie Lopresti said. "He just got really good this year.''
Wise Dan received 194 votes in balloting by the National Thoroughbred Association, Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters to easily outdistance I'll Have Another (30) and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned (12).
"The whole thing seems like a miracle to me,'' 83-year-old owner Morton Fink said. "Sometimes over the years, you have decent horses and something always goes wrong sooner or later. This year and last year, just unbelievable.''
Wise Dan became the first gelding to win Horse of the Year since John Henry in 1984. He also became the first horse to sweep Horse of the Year, top older male and top male turf horse honors since John Henry in 1981.
"People have been telling me for the last month that he's got a chance to win all three. I didn't know if I believe that,'' Lopresti said. "You want to believe it because you believe in your horse and you like your horse. It was just amazing that he did that.''
Wise Dan's lone defeat in 2012 was by a head in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, where he gave weight to winner Ron the Greek.
It wasn't until this past summer at Saratoga and the ensuing races that Lopresti truly realized the quality of horse he had.
"Every race that he came out of, he acted like he never ran it,'' Lopresti said. "I'd take him to the track in two of three days and it was like he never ran.''
I'll Have Another finished won all four starts, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He was scratched from the Belmont Stakes due to a tendon injury that led to his retirement.
"Another year, I'll Have Another could have won all three awards, he just had the bad luck of running with Wise Dan in the same year,'' Fink said.
Lopresti was asked if the Horse of Year could expect a reward from his trainer for being Horse of the Year.
"He did get a reward, he got 60 days off,'' Lopresti said. "Most horses don't get to go home and roll around in the paddock. They'd be down here training right now.''
Other winners included Zagora as top female turf horse, Royal Delta as top older female, Dale Romans as outstanding trainer, Ramon Dominguez as outstanding jockey, Godolphin Racing LLC as outstanding owner and Darley as outstanding breeder.
Dominguez, who suffered a fractured skull in a spill Friday at Aqueduct, won for the third straight year. He set a North American thoroughbred racing earnings record with $25,582,252 and had 341 wins from 1,398 mounts despite missing nearly two months due to neck and foot injuries.
Fellow jockey nominees John Velazquez and Javier Castellano accepted the award on Dominguez's behalf.
"We're very proud to be here,'' Velazquez said. "We have [Ramon] in our prayers and hopefully he'll be back soon to be in competition with us.''