Gary and Mary West’s 3-year-old colt West Coast took the lead out of the gate in Saturday’s Grade 1 Travers Stakes, fending off a pair of challengers in the lane and drawing away late to win by 3 1/4 lengths. The son of Flatter, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Mike Smith, covered 1 1/4 miles over Saratoga’s fast main track in 2:02.19, beating Gunnevera and Irap to the finish line. A steward’s inquiry between the second and third-place finishers for interference in the stretch resulted in no change.
“This is really exciting. It is like winning the Kentucky Derby to me,” said owner Mary West. “It is just exciting. It is the same [as winning a Breeders Cup]. We were so thrilled when New Year’s Day won the Breeders Cup, and this is second only to the [Kentucky] Derby. It doesn’t get any better.”
The win capped off a pretty good afternoon for Baffert and Smith, who got together earlier on the card to win the G1 Forego with Drefong and finish third in the G1 Allen Jerkens with American Anthem. Baffert has now won the Travers for the last two years in a row, and three times overall; his first came in 2001 with Point Given, and he saddled Arrogate to victory in the 2016 edition. Smith’s day had a bit of a rocky start, finishing second aboard the heavily-favored Songbird in the G1 Personal Ensign, but the Hall of Famer pulled it together to win with his last two mounts on the card.
“We had a whole lot of lows early, and you just have to keep believing, keep riding for the right people and just make the right moves,” said Smith. “It is going to come around. And just because you get beat doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, it just happens in every sport.”
With a clean break near the inside of the 12-horse field, Smith easily guided West Coast over to the rail to take the lead in the first sixteenth of a mile. He was flanked by Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing. Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit was tucked in fourth, and Irap was away in fifth.
“Might of been something people didn’t think, but when Bob texted me before the race he said listen, he is yours, you ride him however you want with a big ‘Ever,’” Smith relayed. “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.
“We warmed him up sharp. And I digged him out of there and he was responsive and after that he was just in such a beautiful rhythym and I said ‘oh guys, it’s going to be a hard out running from here’ and I thank the lord that he ran his race and he came back happy and sound and he didn’t turn a hair.”
Smith cruised through fractions of :23.82 and :48.12, allowing Always Dreaming a bit closer in the backstretch. Tapwrit made a middle move to jump into third, and Irap was on the outside in fourth as Cloud Computing began to drop out of the race. After six furlongs in 1:12.23, West Coast had put away Always Dreaming only to be challenged once again, this time by the big-boned Irap, winner of his last two starts in a row.
Suddenly, Gunnevera starting making a huge move from the rear of the field. Edgard Zayas guided the colt around the far outside from second-last into third position around the final turn, and at the head of the lane he was nearly on even terms with the battling West Coast and Irap.
“He ran a huge race,” Zayas gushed. “The plan was to stay back. I wanted to just go following Girvin and McCracken 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.”
Irap was the first to give in, and while Gunnevera gave his backers a thrill at 24-1, he came up short and struggled late, wandering inside and crossing the path of Irap. West Coast had plenty left to give and did so willingly, drawing away late to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Gunnevera had to settle for second, and Irap checked in third. Belmont winner Tapwrit got up for fourth, and Good Samaritan was fifth.
The full order of finish was: West Coast, Gunnevera, Irap, Tapwrit, Good Samaritan, Giuseppe the Great, McCraken, Cloud Computing, Always Dreaming, Lookin at Lee, Girvin, and Fayeq. A stewards’ inquiry into the bumping between Gunnevera and Irap resulted in no change.
“I thought my horse should stay up, sure, and there should be no change in the result,” said Gunnevera’s trainer Antonio Sano regarding the objection. “As far as the horse [Irap, No. 10], he was way back, so it wouldn’t have made a difference. Gunnevera ran very good, very good. I am very proud of him. It was a really good race. We expected first place when we came in, but we’re happy with his race. He [Edgard Zayas] did a very good with the run, and we’re happy with it. We’re going to rest and take him to the Breeders’ Cup [Classic]. l will take the horse back to Florida and not run him until then. He’ll just train up to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Bred in Kentucky by CFP Thoroughbreds, West Coast was a $ 425,000 Keeneland September Sale yearling purchase. Out of champion Caressing (Honour and Glory), West Coast has never finished worse than second in his seven-race career. With five wins, the Travers his first Grade 1, West Coast’s earnings now stand at over $ 1 million.
Watch the race replay here:
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2017 Paulick Report.