by Parx Racing Press Release
September 23, 2017
The muddled merry go round regarding this year’s 3 year-old male champion may have been narrowed down to Gary and Mary West’s colt West Coast, who stacked the cards in his favor with a strong 7 ¼ length winning performance under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith in the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby. The victory was the fifth straight for the son of Flatter, and second Grade 1 in a row after he responded to multiple late challenges in the Travers, but drew on to win by 3 ¼ lengths. That was his second graded stakes performance after closing to win the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby.
‘This horse is just getting better and better,” Baffert said. “We thought he would run a big race, and he was calm in the paddock. He is just a big boy. It was nice the way he ran. He did it pretty easily.”
West Coast sat second to the outside of front running Outplay and the two took the field into the first turn while Game Over followed three wide in third with Timeline fourth and Irish War Cry fifth. Irap sat patiently in sixth and the rest of the field of 10 followed, but after a half-mile was run in 47.24. West Coast put a head in front before Outplay found fought back and relieved his margin. Three quarters of a mile was clocked in 1:11.18, and West Coast was now a length behind, but Smith allowed his colt to run, and within a few strides he was in front of a tiring Outplay, as Irap, and a late charging Giuseppe the Great was making a move from ninth.
Irap took a few erratic strides in mid-stretch, and with Mario Gutierrez trying to straighten his course, the rest were strung about to his inside. West Coast lengthened his advantage, and Irap settled for second a length ahead of Giuseppe the Great, who once again outran his long odds as he did in his second place finish in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga. West Coast finished the 1 1/8 mile affair in 1:49.91. The romp was the second Derby victory for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert after Bayern ran a record setting 1:46.96 for the 1 1/8 miles in 2014.
“I felt real good on the first turn, Baffert said. “Mike had him in a good position kept him on the outside. I told him don’t go near the rail. At the 3/8ths pole he had a lot of horse and I was afraid he was going to get a little bored out there [West Coast]. He’s just learning how to run and to have a three-year-old this time of year and the way he won the Travers and now winning this race he is going to be horse to reckon.” For Smith, who seems to return with an unbeatable vengeance once he loses a Grade 1 race on a program as he did once race previously in the Cotillion with runner-up Abel Tasman, he is confident in his colt. “He is really a good horse,” Smith said. “He is just better than they are right now, as far as three year olds go.”
With Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, Preakness winner Cloud Computing and Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit all out of action for the remainder of the year, the 3 year-old championship West Coast is now atop the division, and could be the first to benefit from his PA Derby win since the race was upgraded to Grade 1 status this year after running as a Grade 2 since 2004.
Now headed towards a start in the Breeders’ Cup on November 3 and 4, West Coast could give Baffert his eighth 3 year-old champion male, and third in a row following Arrogate in 2016, and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015. West Coast rewarded his backers with $3.90 for a $2 win wager.
The ladies were the center of attention atop the racing world in the 48th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion, but the queen of the dance, multiple Grade 1 winner Abel Tasman was dethroned, and instead it was California shipper It Tiz Well who came on late under jockey Drayden Van Dyke to win in 1:43.67 for the 1 1/16 miles for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
“Very satisfying,” said Dan Ward, assistant trainer to Jerry Hollendorfer. “She has been running good races and improving all the time. I thought we had a good chance. I thought we might get that trip. She did a super job.”
The victory was the first Grade 1 victory for the daughter of Arch, and came after she failed to hold off Elate in the Grade 1 Alabama. It was her third graded stakes win after she captured the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks two starts previously. Her first came in the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn Park on March 11. She ran today like she ran at Delaware Park [July 8, Delaware Oaks],” Van Dyke said. “Set off the pace and relaxed, and when I called upon her she responded. She was perfect. When I saw Mike [Smith aboard favorite Abel Tasman] coming up on the inside, and I sat off her and waited and they kind of went away from me for a few seconds and she was there for me the whole time.” Upon the early fractions Juddmonte Farms Lockdown set the pace under jockey Luis Saez subbing in for the injured Jose Ortiz, who is off mounts for the weekend with a bruised knee. Saez kept the daughter by First Defence closer in a spot she had never been before in four previous starts, but speed or close to it was the favorable spot to be. She was trying really hard,” Saez said. “She gave me everything she had. She was pretty comfortable early and she put herself in a pretty good spot. When she went to the front I thought this is good, this is perfect. I didn’t want to fight with her so I let her do her thing.”
Abel Tasman, the 1 to 2 favorite trying to stretch her streak of three Grade 1s to another was well off the pace in the early stages after the first quarter in 23.26, and the half-mile in 47.27 was run. Unlike the bold early move she was given by hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in her last victory, the Coaching Club American Oaks, the filly by Quality Road seemed to take her own approach to beating her foes and sparked a high speed cruise along the rail to catch and confront Lockdown at the end of the backside. With Lockdown to her outside, the duo hit the top of the stretch, and the crowd believed they were seeing the rest of Abel Tasman’s launch to victory. Instead Lockdown, running a more favorable distance today than she had in her sixth place finish in the 1 1/ 4 mile Alabama, had more left in the tank.
Unbeknownst to Lockdown and Abel Tasman, Saez and Smith, It Tiz Well was a strong foe to their outside. Van Dyke went to work, and inched away as Lockdown and Abel Tasman along the rail path tried to hold her off. Instead It Tiz Well carried on her progression besting both by two lengths to the wire while Abel Tasman, now succumbing to her early might, held on for second ¾ of a length over Lockdown. Mopotism closed well for fourth.
I didn’t want to take it that soon,” Smith said. “I was hoping to get finish on the lead. She has been breaking slow of late than she wants to gather herself up and wants to catch up at one time, too much to do. I could have stayed way wide, but I would have been to wide and she still would have wanted to make that move and I would have been to wide, the inside is wide open and she was pulling me so hard and she just took me there and I thought maybe she could pull it off from here but it was too much to do. She’ll be fine for the Breeders’ Cup. It wasn’t one of her best but she ran well.”
Abel Tasman had been a promising 2 year-old filly in the Simon Callaghan barn with three victories from four starts topped by her win in the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes to close out her year. Following her second place finish in the Grade 3 Santa Isabel Stakes she was transferred by her owners China Horse Club International to Bob Baffert’s barn. A second place finish in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks led Smith to ask Baffert about adding blinkers to her in a workout. Reluctantly, Baffert agreed, and after both Hall of Fame minds went forward, Abel Tasman rattled off three Grade 1 victories in the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn and the Coaching Club American Oaks. Now Baffert may shed the blinkers in an effort to calm her down during the early stages. “She got real rank with him, she took off with him it, and it was unfortunate. It was a ridiculous run. We just we might have to take the blinkers off. I guess we just have to turn the page.”
It Tiz Well returned $12.60 for a $2 win bet.
A sharp break, and enough endurance to hold off a late challenge from west coast challenger American Pastime was all Coal Front needed to win the Grade 3, $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes stopping the timer in 1:08.94 for six furlongs under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher.
“ I thought Johnny did a great job breaking him out of the gate and getting him in good rhythm from the start and turn from home he dug in and hung on,” said Byron Hughes, assistant trainer for Todd Pletcher. “It was a good race.”
The colt by Stay Thirsty went immediately out to the lead while stablemate Petrov took back and stalked his lead from third down the backside. Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano sat behind the quick pace of 22.21 for the first quarter while Coal Front remained in front at the three-eighths mark, and clocked 45.21 for the half mile. Turning for home Aquamarine and jockey Luis Saez launched a bid, while Petrov kept his margin, but the anticipated showdown between American Pastime and Coal Front was quickly underway when Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux came charging to the outside of Coal Front for a stretch duel to decide the winner. It looked as if American Pastime, the second choice in betting behind the even money entry had the advantage with his late run, but Coal Front found another gear, and refused to be passed lasting to the wire by a 1/2 length margin to the wire. Petrov checked in for third 5 ½ lengths behind American Pastime, and it was 1 ¾ lengths back to Aquamarine who finished fourth. Coal Front now owns four wins from five starts, and returned to the winners’ circle after his lackluster fifth place finish in the Grade 1 Allen Jerkens at Saratoga disappointed his connections. Entering that race Coal Front was undefeated through his first three topped by his victory in the Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga. Coal Front paid $3.60 for a $2 win bet.
One of the truly amazing horses over the past five years at Parx has been Page McKenney. The seven year-old gelded son of Eavesdropper is a that simply refuses to lose, and he wowed the crowd again Saturday with another heart pounding victory in the $150,000 PA Derby Champion Stakes. Rallying from just off the pace coming off the final turn, Page McKenney, with his signature grit and determination, put away front runner Matt King Coal on his inside and then held off the late running Just Call Kenny on his outside to win by a hard fought neck. It was the 20th win of his career, the sixth in seven starts over the local track, and raised his lifetime earnings to just over $1.75 million. Despite his amazing record, he was a bit overlooked in the wagering, going off at 6-1, returning $15.20 to win. He is owned by Adam Staple & Jalin Racing Stable, is trained by Mary Eppler and was ridden to victory by his regular rider, Horacio Karamanos. The final time for the one-mile and one sixteenth over the fast track was 1:44.17.
The $100,000 Alphabet Soup Stakes, a one mile and one-sixteenth turf stake for PA-bred three year-olds and up turned into an absolute thriller. StarLadies Racing’s Firsthand Report, a four year-old Blame filly, tackled the boys and gamely held off the late surge of Bern James Bern to win a nose. Jockey Javier Castellano, riding for trainer Todd Pletcher, sent Firsthand Report immediately to the lead and she went unchallenged through relatively quick fractions of 22.95 and 46.33. Rallying three wide around the far turn, Bern James Bern moved into contention as the field neared the top of the stretch. The two then squared off through the final eighth of a mile and Firsthand Report simply would not give in. She valiantly held on to win a dramatic photo finish. Off as second choice at 3-1, she paid $8.20 to win and finished in a time of 1:40.67 over a course labeled firm.