When West Coast took’em gate to wire in the 148th running of the Travers Stakes on August 26 how many folks were surprised? One fella that resides in the Golden State certainly was not.
Bob Baffert has made a habit lately of coming up big when it matters most. For the second consecutive year he did not win a Triple Crown race but as the calendar fades to fall he may have the best three-year old male in training. Last year, “big race Bob” came on like a freight train with Arrogate in August and won the Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic. With no dominant three-year old in the mix, the sizeable son of Unbridled’s Song was an easy choice for top year end honors. This year, a very balanced division has seen no male establish any type of winning consistency in the bigger graded stakes races. And then West Coast jumped out of the Saratoga starting gates.
The impressive scat over the Saratoga dirt marked the fourth consecutive trip to the winner’s circle for the Baffert trained son of Flatter and third consecutive stakes win. The Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard on June 10 was a superb performance that his trainer points to as an important point in his seven race career.
“The Easy Goer was his coming out party,” says Baffert. “That race showed us some of his talent. He’s got a strong pedigree and the mile and a quarter distance of the Travers was something we thought would be good for him.”
The distance in the Travers was certainly no problem for this great-grandson of Seattle Slew. Taking command early and cruising home as much the best, West Coast was exactly what his hall of fame conditioner thought he would be in the mid-summer derby.
“That was a very competitive field in a very competitive division,” observes Baffert. “He beat a lot of good horses and I think every trainer in that race went in thinking if things went a certain way their horse would win. West Coast ran like we thought he would and he ran like we trained him to run.”
The style West Coast employed was a bit different than in previous races. Normally a horse that comes from off the pace, under jockey Mike Smith this flashy colt was the pace. In romping away from the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Matt Winn, Jim Dandy, and Haskell winners, West Coast and his turn of foot was impressive to say the least. The new-found versatility makes him even a bit more eye-catching.
So now that the Travers Stakes is in the books and the summer days are getting shorter, people will obviously throw West Coast in the mix for best three-year old male. Another solid win in graded stakes company to go with his wins in the Easy Goer, Los Alamitos Derby, and Travers would certainly carry a lot of weight in a division that has seen every major stakes since the Kentucky Derby with a different winner. As for Baffert, he has too many other things to think about now besides end of the year hardware.
“I don’t have a vote so I can’t concern myself with the year-end awards,” quips the California conditioner. “I run my horses when they are ready to run and let all the rest of that stuff sort itself out.”