January 22, 2018

West Coast seizes initiative at start, leads wire to wire in Travers

West Coast was never seriously threatened leading all the way under jockey Mike Smith in the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on Saturday, August 26, 2017 (c) NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography

West Coast continued his ascension with a convincing wire-to-wire tally in Saturday’s $1.25 million Travers (G1), giving trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith back-to-back victories in Saratoga’s centerpiece event. The 3-year-old son of Flatter stretched his win streak to four while making his Grade 1 debut in the Midsummer Derby.

Last year, nobody expected to see Arrogate lead all the way in the Travers and it proved to be déjà vu all over again as Smith hustled his mount to the lead leaving the starting gate, sprinting forward to take the advantage into the clubhouse turn. They call the Hall of Famer “Big Money” Mike Smith for a reason.

“(West Coast setting the pace) might have been something people didn’t think, but when Bob (Baffert) texted me before the race he said listen, he is yours, you ride him however you want with a big “Ever,” Smith said. “So that kind of made me think I could get a little aggressive with him. And that is what I wanted to do with no pace in the race.”

Baffert watched the race from home in California.

Owned by Gary and Mary West, West Coast reeled off splits in :23.82, :48.12 and 1:12.23 on a short lead before drawing away in the stretch drive, completing 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.19. He left the starting gate as the 6-1 fourth choice in a deep 12-horse field.

“So proud to be riding for this outfit and for these people and the chance to ride a horse that is getting good right now,” Smith said. “He (was) coming into the race sneaky good. He is still full of himself. Bob and his whole crew, Martin Garcia that gets these horses ready, I am just happy I am the guy that keeps the weight on their back.”

Gunnevera offered a big rally into contention on the far turn and survived an inquiry/objection after getting weary in deep stretch, drifting into Irap, who was tiring as well and wound up another 2 ¼ lengths back in third on the wire. Irap had no excuses after receiving a perfect trip, up close stalking the pacesetter in third before advancing to second on the far turn. The runner-up was overlooked at 24-1 and Irap wound up being the 5-1 second choice.

Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit basically held his position in fourth throughout at 6-1. Good Samaritan, the 7-2 favorite, closed belatedly for fifth. Preakness winner Cloud Computing checked in eighth and Kentucky Derby hero Always Dreaming finished ninth.

Similar to Arrogate, West Coast was unraced at 2 and missed the Triple Crown after making his career debut early in his sophomore season. The bay colt has never finished worse than second, compiling an 7-5-2-0 record, and more than doubled his career earnings to $993,800. A head second when making his stakes bow in the Lexington (G3) at Keeneland, West Coast earned his first stakes triumph when rolling to a 3 ¾-length score in the Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard. He was exiting a facile 2 ¾-length triumph in the July 15 Los Alamitos Derby (G2).

Smith, who also guided Holy Bull (1994) and Coronado’s Quest (1998), has now captured the Travers four times. Fellow Hall of Famer Baffert registered his third victory, winning his first with Point Given in 2001.

Bred in Kentucky by CFP Thoroughbreds LLC, West Coast was purchased for $425,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale. He’s out of the Honour and Glory mare Caressing, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2000.

The Travers Day attendance was 47,725.

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