The muddled merry go round regarding this year’s 3 year-old champion colt in the United States may have been narrowed down to West Coast, who stacked the cards in his favour with a strong 7¼ length winning performance under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith in the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on Saturday.
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 3¼ 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,” trainer Bob 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. 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. The win was the second Derby victory for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert after Bayern in 2014.
Now headed towards a start in the Breeders’ Cup on November 3rd and 4th, 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.