West Coast is Best in Travers Stakes

West Coast

By Alicia Wincze Hughes, courtesy Blood-Horse

The similarities between West Coast and a certain stablemate of his were circumstantial at best.

Given their connections and background, there was no way the son of Flatter could prepare for his start in the Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) without someone mentioning the name 'Arrogate' in the conversation. They shared a Hall of Fame conditioner in Bob Baffert, not to mention the guiding hands of jockey Mike Smith. They were both unraced juveniles who did not contest the Triple Crown series, and they had shown up for their respective runs in the Midsummer Derby trying to throw a division already in a tizzy for a further loop.

There is still much to be done before West Coast's name is on any sort of statistical par with North America's all-time leading money earner. But the effort the bay colt uncorked for 10 furlongs over the Saratoga Race Course oval Aug. 26 isn't going to hush the comparisons.

One year after champion Arrogate shipped in from California and turned his division on its ear with a gate-to-wire, record-setting Travers triumph, West Coast borrowed a page from his stablemate's playbook when he registered his own breakout, front-running victory by 3 1/4 lengths in the Spa's signature test.

Similar to 12 months earlier when Arrogate bulled his way through an opening in the 3-year-old ranks, West Coast managed to throw yet another wrench into a sophomore picture that refuses to come into any sort of focus. For the first time since 1982, the Travers featured three individual classic winners in its starting gate. With the exception of Fayeq, Lookin At Lee, and Giuseppe the Great, every other entrant in the 12-horse field was a graded stakes winner.

It wouldn't be the craziest case of Déjà vu to think perhaps the most talented of the bunch has, again, been under Baffert's nose the entire time. As he turned back the early challenge of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) Always Dreaming and then fended off both Irap and Gunnevera in the lane, West Coast earned his fifth win from seven career starts—all coming this year—a résumé about as strong as any belonging to his classsmates at the moment.

"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 of West Coast. "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."

West Coast put the idea of a Travers run in the mind of his connections when he rallied from off the pace to win the June 10 Easy Goer Stakes by 3 3/4 lengths at Belmont Park. He still needed to prove himself against graded company, though, something he did with style when he delivered another off-the-pace victory in the July 15 Los Alamitos Derby (G3) going 1 1/8-miles.

West Coast flashed speed when he broke his maiden second time out at Santa Anita Park in March, and he put that versatility to work in a Travers field that didn't have a ton of pace. Breaking out of post 3, the colt owned by Gary and Mary West cut an opening quarter in :23.82 and a half-mile in :48.12 with Always Dreaming stalking him to the outside.

"Just off of the way it looked, I said I was going to get aggressive leaving here, and see where it puts me," Smith said. "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."

As West Coast reached the far turn, new threats were coming at him as Irap rolled up three-wide and Gunnevera advanced from next to last full of run on the far outside. Both challengers looked to have West Coast measured in the lane, but the latter had more gears to showcase, hitting the wire in 2:01.19 with Gunnevera holding for second.

"He ran a huge race. The plan was to stay back," said Edgard Zayas, jockey of Gunnevera. "I wanted to just go following Girvin and McCraken and try to make a run with them, but they were gaining so much ground, so I swung on the outside and made a run with him and he ran a huge race really. I'm very proud of him."

Added Mario Gutierrez, jockey of third-place finisher Irap, "There was a little bit of an incident in the stretch, but beside that I had a pretty good trip. He was a little bit rank today but nothing unusual. He was pretty good. (Gunnevera) did push me down, but I guess the stewards didn't think it was enough to cost me my place, but who knows?"

There was a stewards' inquiry into the stretch run regarding the second- and third-place finishers, but the results were allowed to stand.

Tapwrit, winner of the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), got up for fourth, one length in front of Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) winner Good Samaritan. Giuseppe the Great was sixth, with McCraken and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Cloud Computing next. Always Dreaming faded to ninth and Lookin at Lee, Girvin, and Fayeq completed the order of finish.

"I thought Tapwrit ran really well and kind of finished steadily and didn't have that big burst at the end that we needed," said Todd Pletcher, trainer of both Tapwrit and Always Dreaming. "I thought he put forth a good effort. Always Dreaming, he kind of came off the bridle at the half-mile pole. I can't offer much excuse."

Bred by CFP Thoroughbreds, West Coast paid $14.20, $7.60, and $5.30 across the board as he improved his earnings to $993,800. He is out of champion Caressing, winner of the 2000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), and was purchased by agent Ben Glass for $425,000 out of the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale.

"This is really exciting. It is like winning the Kentucky Derby to me," Mary West said. "It is just exciting. It is the same (as winning a Breeders' Cup). It doesn't get any better."