Gary and Mary West’s West Coast took the East by storm on Saturday, posting an impressive victory by 3 ¼ lengths in the $1.25 million NYRA Bets Travers Stakes (GI) at Saratoga. The bay son of Flatter was ridden to victory by trainer Bob Baffert’s go-to jockey Mike Smith, who was only aboard the bay son of Flatter once for a win in the Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont, and marked the second Travers win in a row for the Hall of Fame duo (they teamed up last year with champion Arrogate). Baffert also saddled Point Given to victory in 2001 and Smith previously guided Holy Bull to victory in 1994 and Coronado’s Quest in 1998.
As the public’s 6-1 fourth choice in the field of 11 other sophomores, West Coast was good for $14.20, $7.60 and $5.30, keying a $357.50 exacta with runner-up Gunnevera, who paid $18.40 and $10.40 as a 24-1 outsider. Irap was worth $5.40 at odds of nearly 6-1 and the trifecta returned $2,245.
Tapwrit, Good Samaritan, Giuseppe the Great, McCraken, Cloud Computing, Always Dreaming, Lookin at Lee, Girvin and Fayeq rounded out the order of finish.
From the break, West Coast let at every call through, posting reasonable splits of :23.82, :48.12 and 1:12.23 with Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing pressuring to each side. As he rounded the far bend, his early pursuers were out of gas, but Gunnevera was in full flight from nearer the back of the pack early and Irap was gearing up from his position just behind the early pace.
At the top of the stretch, West Coast was briefly challenged by the eventual runner-up and third-place finisher, but shortly after logging a mile in 1:36.82 turned back the challenge under a stern left-handed stick from Smith and slowly drew away to win, stopping the teletimer in 2:01.19 over a fast Saratoga main track.
“They said, ‘Listen, you ride him however you want, and he’ll put a big effort,’ and that means I could do whatever I wanted,” Smith said. “Just off of the way it looked, I said I was going to get aggressive leaving here, and see where it puts me. If it’s not in front, it puts me in the race, and I’m happy with that. I thought there wasn’t much pace, but, man, I caught a good jump, put him on the lead, and he just cruised from there. He was a happy horse all the way around there. There was a time or two when they came to me, but he just put them away, and every time they would he’d take a big old breath of air, so I felt confident he’d continue to run well.”
From seven career starts, West Coast has never finished worse than second and, of his five trips to the winner’s circle, three were in stakes company, including the aforementioned Easy Goer Stakes and also the Los Alamitos Derby (GIII). He has now earned $993,800.
West Coast, who was purchased by the Wests for $425,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2015, is a son of the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) winner and that’s year’s champion juvenile filly Caressing, who is by Honour and Glory.
“I think the key to today was that horse was in his element in the paddock, and he looked great going to the gate,” Baffert said. “Usually, he gets all worked up and hot, and today he was perfect. He was a saint and that was the key to this horse today. “He’s maturing. When I saw him in the paddock, he looked unbelievable. I mean, I’ve never seen him look so… great. You could tell he was like a man among boys. He looked the part. I mean, he was a specimen when he came onto that track. And the breeding… his mother, he’s out of a great mare. So he’s just coming around. It was just slow coming around. But there was nobody that was going to beat him today.”
Co-owner Gary West suggested West Coast could now be pointed toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Del Mar on November 4, but said that though Smith is the regular rider for stablemate Arrogate there would not be any jockey choice dilemma.
“I’ll tell you who he’s going to ride,” West said. “It’s not going to be our horse, and I fully understand that. We don’t know what we’re going to do with our horse yet is the truth of the matter.
“It’s a really tough bunch of older horses this year, probably the toughest ever, and we’ll just enjoy this moment and think about things down the road. But I fully would expect Mike to ride what I think is probably the best horse in the world. If he didn’t do that, I’d have his head examined.”
Smith was relieved by the owner’s comment and noted that the Breeders’ Cup is still more than two months away.
“I thought he answered that very well,” Smith said. “Thank you. It’s a long way. You got to just get everybody get home and see how things are, and it will all play itself out.”