West Coast was not able to match Arrogate’s scorching track-record performance in last year’s Travers, but he was plenty good enough to provide a front-running effort that allowed him to prevail by 3 ¼ lengths for Baffert against a rallying Gunnevera. Irap ran third.
“We’ve got control of the canoe for one more year,” joked Baffert during a post-race conference call, referring to the tradition of painting a canoe in the colors of the winner.
The Travers matched separate winners of each of the three Triple Crown races for the first time in 35 years. In 1982, Runaway Groom’s staged a dramatic rally from last to upend three more famous rivals in Gato Del Sol (Kentucky Derby winner), Aloma’s Ruler (Preakness Stakes) and heavily-favored Conquistador Cielo (Belmont Stakes). As far back as 1918, Sun Briar brought down Exterminator (Derby winner), War Cloud (Preakness) and Johren (Belmont).
Baffert said he flirted with the idea of running West Coast in the Belmont. That notion was scrapped after he talked to owner Gary West. “Gary looked at me and said, ‘Are you out of your mind? He’s not ready for that.’ And he was right.”
They instead opted for the Easy Goer Stakes, a much easier spot on the Belmont undercard, and were rewarded with a 3 ¾-length victory. The son of Flatter was given his first graded stakes try in the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby. He responded with a 2 ¾-length decision.
“After the Easy Goer, West Coast really woke up,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s top assistant. “He’s developed, he’s grown, he’s put on weight.”
According to Baffert, West Coast had been his own worst enemy, with a tendency to get worked up in the paddock and the starting gate. Then maturity kicked in.
Baffert said he could tell West Coast was ready for a big effort when he saw him enter the paddock.
“He looked unbelievable. He looked the part. You could tell he was a man among boys,” he said. “He was just slow coming around, but nobody was going to beat him today.”
Jockey Mike Smith, aboard Arrogate last year, also repeated in the Travers and picked up his fourth overall win in the “Midsummer Derby.” He and West Coast set the pace as the 6.10-1 fourth betting choice and finished up 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.19, well off of Arrogate’s track record of 1:59.36.
Trainer Todd Pletcher experienced mixed emotions with Tapwrit and Always Dreaming. “I thought Tapwrit ran really well and kind of finished steadily and didn’t have that big burst at the end that we needed. I thought he put forth a good effort,” he said. “Always Dreaming, he kind of came off the bridle at the half-mile pole. I can’t offer much excuse.”