West Coast poised to challenge in Breeders’ Cup Classic
Bob Baffert was in the same situation last year with another late-blooming sophomore who missed the Triple Crown, Arrogate. And the questions we asked were two-fold: Can Arrogate avoid a “bounce” following a monstrous Travers performance and is he good enough to step up and beat California Chrome in the Classic?
West Coast will face a deeper cast of elders, with Arrogate, Collected and Gun Runner among the big guns expected in the Classic starting gate, but he has an excellent chance to run well in my estimation.
I love the adaptability West Coast has displayed, rallying to record his first stakes victories in the Easy Goer and Los Alamitos Derby (G3) and capturing the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby in front-running fashion. Arrogate showed similar versatility, winning the Travers wire-to-wire and the 2016 Classic at Santa Anita from off the pace.
“This horse is just getting better and better,” Baffert said after the Pennsylvania Derby. “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.”
“He ran really well today,” Smith added. “He's turned into a really good horse. He's just better than they are. As a matter of fact, he was getting bored."
Baffert wasn’t ready to commit West Coast to the Classic afterward but the son of the Claiborne Farm stallion Flatter certainly proved he belongs in the equation.
“To have a 3-year-old at this time of year and the way he won the Travers and now this race, he is going to be a horse to reckon with,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “I know he's late to the party. It just took him time to get to this level. The Breeders' Cup is a long ways off, we'll wait and see.”
Baffert wouldn’t be so hesitant if he didn’t already have Arrogate, Collected and Cupid readying for the 1 ¼-mile Classic, but West Coast has established himself as a viable win prospect with BRIS Speed ratings of 112 and 108 in the last two starts.
And I can envision West Coast receiving an ideal stalking trip in midpack at Del Mar. Collected and Cupid are more confirmed front-runners who are eligible to come under serious pressure from Gun Runner during the early stages and Arrogate doesn’t appear to relish the seaside track in San Diego.
Following outstanding back-to-back Grade 1 wins, West Coast will bring peaking form to the championship event and 3-year-olds have taken the last three editions of the Classic. He’ll be in my top 3 on November 4.