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Baffert's Latest Late-Bloomer

by Jon White

September 27, 2017

A year after Arrogate, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has another big-time late-blooming 3-year-old.

Arrogate began 2016 as an unraced maiden and put together a strong campaign during the second half of 2016 in a meteoric rise to superstardom. In his stakes debut, he won the Grade I Travers Stakes by 13 1/2 lengths in late August, obliterating the Saratoga track record for by four-fifths of a second in a Secretariat-like performance.

And then, in Arrogate’s final start as a 3-year-old, he won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic over California Chrome at Santa Anita Park. It was Baffert’s third consecutive BC Classic victory, a truly remarkable feat that I do not think gets the attention it deserves. Baffert also won the BC Classic in 2014 at Santa Anita with Bayern and in 2015 at Keeneland with the great American Pharoah.

Interestingly, during Baffert’s current run of three straight BC Classic victories, all three times he sent out a 3-year-old to defeat his elders.

Can Baffert win a fourth consecutive BC Classic this year on Nov. 4 at Del Mar? And if he does, will it be with yet another 3-year-old? It certainly is not out of the question in light of what happened in last Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby at Parx. Baffert won the 1 1/8-mile affair -- appropriately upgraded to Grade I status for the first time this year -- with West Coast, who has been nothing less than stellar during the second half of 2017. West Coast in 2017 began the year as an unraced maiden, just like Arrogate in 2016.

Ridden in the Pennsylvania Derby by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, West Coast was backed down to 4-5 favoritism. The Kentucky-bred son of Flatter did not get away all that alertly, but he moved up quickly to become a pace factor. He alternated for the lead through the early stages with Outplay. The preliminary fractions were :23.20, :47.24 and 1:11.18.

West Coast shook clear approaching the quarter pole, then drifted a bit wide coming into the stretch. Drawing further away to sport a healthy four-length advantage at the eighth pole, he continued to steadily increase his lead in the final furlong to win by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:49.91. The track record is 1:46.96, which was set by Bayern when he won the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby by 5 3/4 lengths (California Chrome finished sixth).

The Pennsylvania Derby was West Coast’s fifth straight victory, all at a different track. In his last five starts, he has won twice on the West Coast (at Santa Anita and Los Alamitos) and three times on the East Coast (at Belmont Park, Saratoga and Parx).

Finishing second to West Coast last Saturday was 3-1 Irap, while Giuseppe the Great ended up third at 47-1.

Irap ducked inward sharply during the stretch run in the vicinity of the eighth pole, an action that prompted a stewards’ inquiry. After deliberating, the stewards made no change to the original order of finish.

When Irap was pulled up by Mario Gutierrez after the finish, the colt was injured and unable to be returned to be unsaddled. The son of Tiznow had to be vanned off. Doug O’Neill, Irap’s trainer, revealed that the colt fractured the sesamoids in his left front ankle.

Irap underwent surgery Monday at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania. Dr. Dean Richardson performed the operation while being assisted by Dr. Ryan Carpenter of the Equine Medical Center, which is located in Southern California near Los Alamitos. Richardson is the same surgeon who in 2006 operated on Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro after he sustained a serious injury to his right hind leg about a furlong after the start of the Preakness.

Jim Dunleavy explained what took place during Irap’s operation in a story for Daily Racing Form.

“According to O’Neill,” Dunleavy wrote, “Irap’s surgery consisted of fusing the ankle and putting in metal plates to stabilize the injured area. O’Neill said Irap woke up in a recovery pool after the operation and that Richardson told him Irap had a ‘flawless recovery and walked comfortably back to his stall.’ ”

Irap won this year’s Grade II Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Grade III Ohio Derby at Thistledown and Grade III Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand for owner Reddam Racing.


We might not yet have seen the best from West Coast.

“He keeps getting better and better,” Baffert said after the Pennsylvania Derby.

What West Coast has done during the second half of 2017 certainly has come as no surprise to me.

In my Xpressbet.com column on July 12, prior to the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby on July 15, 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.”

Despite an extremely wide trip in the 1 1/8-mile Los Al Derby, West Coast won going away by 2 3/4 lengths. He recorded a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

I then wrote this on Aug. 2: “I predict that West Coast will return to the East Coast and win the Travers.”

West Coast won the Grade I Travers by 3 1/4 lengths while posting another career-best Beyer, a 108. Among the vanquished in that 1 1/4-mile event were the winners of the Grade I Kentucky Derby (Always Dreaming), Grade I Preakness Stakes (Cloud Computing), Grade I Belmont Stakes (Tapwrit) and Grade I Haskell Invitational (Girvin).

An improving West Coast just might have the capability to be a major player against older foes in the 1 1/4-mile BC Classic, a race that currently is expected to attract such toughies as Gun Runner, Arrogate and Collected.

Gun Runner, Arrogate, Collected and West Coast are the only four horses at the Wynn Race Book in Las Vegas listed at under 10-1 in the latest odds to win the BC Classic. As of Sept. 25, Gun Runner was the favorite at 13-10 (slightly higher than 6-5), followed by Arrogate at 11-5 (slightly higher than 2-1), Collected at 3-1 and West Coast at 7-1 (down from 9-1 on Sept. 13).

Steve Asmussen trains Gun Runner. Arrogate, Collected and West Coast all reside in the Baffert barn. The Wynn’s complete list of odds to win the BC Classic appears at the end of this column.


I thought West Coast might bounce or regress a bit in the Pennsylvania Derby off his career-best 108 Beyer Speed Figure in the Travers. I was right that West Coast’s Beyer last Saturday did indeed turn out to be lower than his Travers figure, but it was only slightly lower. He was assigned a 107 Beyer for his Pennsylvania Derby performance.

These are the Beyer Speed Figures for winners of the Pennsylvania Derby going back to 1992:

2017 West Coast (107)
2016 Connect (103)
2015 Frosted (106)
2014 Bayern (110)
2013 Will Take Charge (105)
2012 Handsome Mike (93)
2011 To Honor and Serve (105)
2010 Morning Line (103)
2009 Gone Astray (104)
2008 Anak Nakal (100)
2007 Timber Reserve (105)
2006 not run
2005 Sun King (103)
2004 Love of Money (112)
2003 Grand Hombre (108)
2002 Harlan’s Holiday (96)
2001 Macho Uno (104)
2000 Pine Dance (105)
1999 Smart Guy (109)
1998 Rock and Roll (110)
1997 Frisk Me Now (114)
1996 Devil’s Honor (114)
1995 Pineing Patty (108)
1994 Meadow Flight (106)
1993 Wallenda (100)
1992 Thelastcrusade (107)


The way I see it, following West Coast’s back-to-back clear-cut triumphs in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, he has established himself as a strong favorite to get the 2017 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.

Earlier this year, Always Dreaming had gone to the head of the nation’s 3-year-old class when he won the Kentucky Derby after also having taken the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. But after winning the roses, Always Dreaming lost three in a row. He finished eighth in the Grade I Preakness (which he lost by 14 lengths), third in the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga (which he lost by 5 1/4 lengths) and ninth in the Travers (which he lost by 18 lengths).

Going into the Pennsylvania Derby, Always Dreaming had been the only 3-year-old male to have won more than one Grade I race on the dirt this year. West Coast became the second sophomore male to do so when he got the job done last Saturday at Parx. Here are this year’s Grade I races for 3-year-olds on dirt so far this year:

Race (Date) Winner

Florida Derby (April 1) Always Dreaming
Santa Anita Derby (April 6) Gormley
Arkansas Derby (April 15) Classic Empire
Kentucky Derby (May 6) Always Dreaming
Preakness Stakes (May 20) Cloud Computing
Belmont Stakes (June 10) Tapwrit
Haskell Invitational (July 30) Girvin
Travers Stakes (Aug. 26) West Coast
Pennsylvania Derby (Sept. 23) West Coast

This week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is further proof that West Coast currently is the nation’s top 3-year-old male at this time. Ranked No. 6 this week, West Coast is the lone 3-year-old male in the Top 10.

Here is this week’s ranking of America’s leading Thoroughbreds on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

1. 364 Gun Runner (32)
2. 316 Arrogate (4)
3. 225 Collected
3. 225 Lady Eli
5. 203 Stellar Wind
6. 199 West Coast (1)
7.   99 Drefong
8.   96 Mor Spirit
9.   64 Forever Unbridled
9.   64 Worldly Approval

Also receiving votes: Lady Aurelia (42), Songbird (28), Abel Tasman (22), Shaman Ghost (13), Sharp Azteca (12), Vale Dori (12), Keen Ice (10), Oscar Performance (10), Practical Joke (9), Cupid (7), Mind Your Biscuits (4), Unique Bella (4), Neolithic (3), Elate (2), Beach Patrol (2).


Here are the Wynn’s odds to win the BC Classic as of Sept. 25:

13-10 Gun Runner
11-5   Arrogate
3-1     Collected
7-1     West Coast
10-1    Keen Ice
15-1    Gunnevera
18-1    Shaman Ghost
20-1    Cupid
25-1    Accelerate
25-1    Battle of Midway
25-1    Classic Empire
25-1    Hoppertunity
30-1    Good Samaritan
35-1    Rally Cry
40-1    Churchill
40-1    Curlin Road
40-1    Destin
40-1    Dortumnd
40-1    Mubtaahij
50-1    Giuseppe the Great
50-1    Midnight Storm
50-1    Epicharis
50-1    Pavel
60-1    Breaking Lucky
60-1    Highland Reel
60-1    Irish War Cry
60-1    Thunder Snow
65-1    War Story
75-1    American Freedom
75-1    Donworth
75-1    Madefromlucky
75-1    War Decree
85-1    Imperative
85-1    Lancaster Bomber
85-1    Neolithic
85-1    Tu Brutus
85-1    Lookin At Lee
100-1  Colonelsdarktemper
100-1  Battalion Runner
100-1  Gormley
100-1  Long River
100-1  Special Fighter
100-1  Timeline
100-1  Uncontested
125-1  Patch
125-1  Senior Investment
150-1  Guest Suite

Dortmund has been added to the Wynn’s list of odds to win the BC Classic since Sept. 13. Removed from the list since Sept. 13: Battle of Midway, Cloud Computing, Girvin, Irap, McCraken.