by Jon White
August 30, 2017
One the reasons that Bob Baffert is in the Hall of Fame is he certainly excels at winning multiple editions of major races. During the springtime, he has won the Kentucky Derby four times, the Preakness Stakes six times and the Belmont Stakes twice. And during the summertime, he has won multiple renewals of Del Mar’s signature race, the Pacific Classic, and Saratoga’s prestigious Travers Stakes.
Baffert won the Pacific Classic this year for the fifth time. He sent out Collected to take that Grade I event by a half-length on Aug. 19. Arrogate, who also resides in the powerful Baffert barn, finished second.
Baffert previously had won the Pacific Classic with General Challenge (1999), Richard’s Kid (2009 and 2010) and Game On Dude (2013).
Bobby Frankel holds the record for most Pacific Classic wins as a trainer with six--Missionary Ridge (1992), Bertrando (1993), Tinners Way (1994 and 1995) and Skimming (2000 and 2001).
Baffert won this year’s $1.25 million Travers Stakes for the third time. He sent out West Coast to capture the Grade I affair last Saturday for owners Gary and Mary West. The Wests’ American Freedom, also conditioned by Baffert, finished second to Arrogate in the 2016 Travers.
Baffert previously had won the Travers with Point Given (2000) and Arrogate (2016).
Bert Mulholland holds the record for most Travers wins as a trainer with five -- Eight Thirty (1939), Lights Up (1950), Battlefield (1951), Jaipur (1962) and Crewman (1963).
West Coast, off at odds of 6-1, seized the lead at once and led past every pole in this year’s Travers. Hall of Famer Mike Smith rode the Kentucky-bred Flatter colt.
This was Smith’s fourth victory in the Mid-Summer Derby. He previously had won the Travers aboard Holy Bull (1994), Coronado’s Quest (1998) and Arrogate (2016).
Javier Castellano holds the record for most Travers wins as a jockey with five -- Bernardini (2006), Afleet Express (2010), Stay Thirsty (2011), V.E. Day (2014) and Keen Ice (2015).
No, unlike Arrogate last year, West Coast did not win the Travers by 13 1/2 lengths. And, no, unlike Arrogate last year, West Coast did not complete 1 1/4 miles in 1:59 1/5 (or 1:59.36 in hundredths). But West Coast did draw away in the final furlong and complete 1 1/4 miles in a very good 2:01 flat (2:01.19) to prevail by 3 1/4 emphatic lengths. He paid $14.20 to win.
I think one quite impressive aspect concerning West Coast’s Travers performance was the remarkably steady tempo in which he kept clicking off quarter after quarter in :24 and change or faster. He ran the opening quarter-mile in :23 4/5, followed by quarters in :24 1/5, :24 flat, 24 2/5 and :24 1/5.
Such metronome-like steadiness during a race brings to mind American Pharoah’s victory in the 2015 Belmont Stakes in which he became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. In the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, American Pharoah ran the opening quarter-mile in :24, followed by quarters in :24 3/5, :24 2/5, :24 2/5, :24 1/5, :24 1/5.
When Arrogate won last year’s Travers in front-running fashion and demolished Saratoga’s 1 1/4-mile track record, his fractional times were :23 1/5, :23 3/5, :24 flat, :24 3/5 and :23 4/5. His :23 4/5 final quarter in particular was extraordinary considering how fast he had gone early in the race.
I characterized Arrogate’s Travers victory as Secretariat-like. In what generally is considered the greatest performance by a Thoroughbred in the history of American racing, Secretariat won the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths to complete a Triple Crown sweep. Secretariat’s fractional times in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont were :23 3/5, :22 3/5, :23 3/5, :24 2/5, :24 4/5, :25 flat.
WEST COAST POSTS COMMENDABLE FIG
When Point Given won the 2001 Travers for Baffert, the big colt recorded a 117 Beyer Speed Figure while on his way to being voted 2001 Horse of the Year.
When Keen Ice took the 2015 Travers in an upset, American Pharoah finished second for Baffert after becoming the first 3-year-old to sweep the Triple Crown in 37 years. American Pharoah logged a 105 Beyer in the Travers.
Arrogate was assigned a 122 Beyer Speed Figure when he won the Travers. That 122 is the highest Beyer he has ever recorded.
West Coast registered a career-best 108 Beyer Speed Figure for his Travers victory. It is the highest Beyer in a two-turn race by a 3-year-old male so far this year.
These are the Beyer Speed Figures for winners of the Travers going back to 1990:
2017 West Coast (108)
2016 Arrogate (122)
2015 Keen Ice (106)
2014 V.E. Day (102)
2013 Will Take Charge (107)
2012 Alpha* (100)
2012 Golden Ticket* (100)
2011 Stay Thirsty (101)
2010 Afleet Express (105)
2009 Summer Bird (110)
2008 Colonel John (106)
2007 Street Sense (108)
2006 Bernardini (116)
2005 Flower Alley (110)
2004 Birdstone (108)
2003 Ten Most Wanted (112)
2002 Medaglia d’Oro (113)
2001 Point Given (117)
2000 Unshaded (109)
1999 Lemon Drop Kid (110)
1998 Coronado’s Quest (107)
1997 Deputy Commander (110)
1996 Will’s Way (114)
1995 Thunder Gulch (110)
1994 Holy Bull (115)
1993 Sea Hero (109)
1992 Thunder Rumble (109)
1991 Corporate Report (109)
1990 Rhythm (104)
Bear in mind that in 2014 (Bayern), 2015 (American Pharoah) and 2016 (Arrogate), the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic had raced earlier that year in the Travers. Bayern finished 10th in the Travers before going to win the BC Classic later in the year.
I especially liked what I saw from West Coast after the Travers while he was on his way back to pose for pictures. He actually was acting frisky, as if this took very little out of him. Smith noted after the race that West Coast “didn’t even turn a hair.” The rider added that he believes we have not yet seen the best of West Coast, which is a scary thought to contemplate, inasmuch as the West Coast we saw in the Travers was good enough to dust his 11 foes.
Finishing second in the Travers at 24-1 was Gunnevera, who made a bold move from 11th to loom a threatening third on the far turn. But he had to settle for the place when no match for West Coast in the stretch.
Irap, off at 5-1, lurked in third and fourth through the early stages. He advanced readily to look the leading West Coast in the eye turning home. But West Coast shook off Irap to draw away in the final furlong. Irap ended up third, 5 1/2 lengths behind West Coast.
Not only did West Coast convincingly defeat multiple graded stakes winners Gunnevera and Irap, he beat the likes of Tapwrit by eight lengths, Good Samaritan by nine lengths, Cloud Computing by 12 1/4 lengths, Always Dreaming by 18 lengths and Girvin by 20 lengths. Good Samaritan was sent away as the lukewarm Travers favorite at 7-2.
That means in this year’s edition of the Travers, West Coast trounced the winners of the Belmont Stakes (Tapwrit), Jim Dandy Stakes (Good Samaritan), Preakness Stakes (Cloud Computing), Kentucky Derby (Always Dreaming) and Haskell Invitational (Girvin).
This was only the third time in history that three different winners of the Triple Crown races clashed in the Travers. All three times, the Travers has not been taken by one of the three Triple Crown race winners.
Sun Briar won the 1918 Travers in 2:03 1/5, with Johren finishing second, War Cloud third and the great Exterminator fourth. Sun Briar thus defeated the winners of the Kentucky Derby (Exterminator), Preakness (Johren) and Belmont (War Cloud).
Exterminator, whose nickname was “Old Bones,” won 50 of 100 career starts. He ranked No. 29 on the BloodHorse magazine’s list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.
In 1982, Kentucky Derby winner Gato Del Sol, Preakness winner Aloma’s Ruler and Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo met in the Travers. But Runaway Groom registered a half-length victory in the Travers, with Aloma’s Ruler finishing second, Conquistador Cielo third and Gato Del Sol fifth. Runaway Groom, whose final time was 2:02 2/5, paid $27.80 to win.
Despite Conquistador Cielo’s defeat in the Travers, he was voted 1982 Horse of the Year, mainly as a result of his wins in the Grade I Met Mile against older horses on May 31 and Grade I Belmont Stakes just five days later.
A NEW SOPHOMORE MALE LEADER
On July 12, prior to West Coast’s start in the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby, I wrote: “I think West Coast has the kind of talent to possibly have a big summer and fall campaign. Perhaps he even can run his way into the conversation for an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male of 2017. In terms of the Eclipse Award in this category, there currently is no clear-cut favorite. Prominent contenders, of course, are the three colts to have each won a Triple Crown race this year -- Always Dreaming, Cloud Computing and Tapwrit.”
In the 1 1/8-mile Los Al Derby, when West Coast was fifth on the far turn, he appeared to be struggling. It looked like he might not hit the board. But once he got into the stretch, he gobbled up ground with long strides, sweeping past his rivals to win going away by 2 3/4 lengths. His final time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:48.65. But he ran much farther than 1 1/8 miles because of his wide trip. He was assigned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, but his performance actually was better than that because Beyers do not take a wide trip into account.
After West Coast’s deceptively good victory in the July 15 Los Al Derby, I went out on a limb here at Xpressbet.com by making this statement:
“I am predicting West Coast will return to the East Coast and win the Travers.”
And now that West Coast has indeed won the Travers, many believe he has moved to the head of the nation’s 3-year-old male class.
If voting were conducted today to determine the 3-year-old male champion, no doubt support would go in many directions. But my vote at this time would go to West Coast. He would be my choice mainly because he dominated such a strong group in the Travers.
While we shall see how the rest of 2017 shakes out, I currently rank the nation’s leading 3-year-old males who are in training this way:
1. West Coast
2. Oscar Performance
4. Always Dreaming
5. Cloud Computing
6. Classic Empire
10. Practical Joke
Earlier this year, I thought Baffert might well have had the best 3-year-old male in the country in Mastery, who won Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes by 6 3/4 lengths to remain undefeated in four career starts. Unfortunately, Mastery was pulled up after the finish of the San Felipe with what turned out to be a career-ending injury (reportedly a complete displaced condylar fracture in his left front ankle). And now, here it is August, and I think Baffert again might well have the nation’s best 3-year-old male currently in training in West Coast.
Baffert has mentioned the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at 1 1/8 miles for 3-year-olds at Parx on Sept. 23 or the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles for 3-year-olds and up at Belmont Park on Oct. 7 as a likely next start for West Coast. My vote (which, of course, counts for nothing) is for him to take on his elders in the Gold Cup. The appeal of the Gold Cup to me is West Coast would be racing 1 1/4 miles again rather than shortening up to 1 1/8 miles in the Pennsylvania Derby. Also, I believe a Gold Cup victory would be much more meaningful than the Pennsylvania Derby in terms of West Coast’s credentials for an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.
GUN RUNNER REMAINS NO. 1 NTRA POLL
This week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll offers further evidence that many now regard West Coast as the leader in the 3-year-old male division. While Gun Runner again is No. 1, West Coast has moved into the Top 10 this week while ranking highest among all 3-year-olds, male or female.
Here is this week’s poll, (first-place votes in parenthesis):
1. Gun Runner (33)
2. Arrogate (5)
4. Lady Eli
5. Stellar Wind
7. Mor Spirit
9. West Coast (1)
10. Forever Unbridled
It is quite a tribute to Baffert that he trains five of the above listed 10 horses: Arrogate, Collected, Mor Spirit, Drefong and West Coast. Not only that, Baffert conditions six of the current leading 11 Thoroughbreds in America, according to the poll. Multiple Grade I winner Abel Tasman, who is yet another accomplished resident in the Baffert barn, ranks No. 11 in this week’s poll after being No. 9 last week.
NOTE: I will not be posting an Xpressbet.com column next week, Wednesday, Sept. 6. Look for my next Xpressbet.com column on Wednesday, Sept. 13.