There is very little surprise when trainer Bob Baffert wins a big race. After all, he has the best horse in the world in Arrogate, was the last trainer to win the Triple Crown and has so much talent in his barn that it’s as crowded as an airport runway after a weather delay.
So there was concern in the voice of the Los Alamitos track announcer Bobby Neuman when 2-5 favorite West Coast wasn’t moving to the lead in Saturday’s $200,000 Los Alamitos Derby.
Even’s Baffert’s wife, Jill, was wondering what was going on when West Coast was loping along wide on the backstretch in fifth place, seemingly not showing any forward movement.
But, like taking a Ferrari for a Sunday drive, you know the power is there when you need it.
West Coast entered the stretch third and flew past everyone to win the 1 1/8-mile race by 2 ¾ lengths.
“Jill kept saying what’s he doing?” Baffert said. “I said, ‘He was instructed to do that. Wait, wait, wait because if he goes early then he doesn’t finish like he did two races back.’
“It was sort of a gamble to sit back there, but it paid off. Then when he turned for home I said, ‘I think we’re OK.’ He’s a good horse and it’s a long stretch. All of a sudden he just took off, getting into stride.”
Drayden Van Dyke was riding the horse for the first time, as Mike Smith who rode him to a win in the Easy Goer at Belmont, was back east riding Songbird.
The race started as expected with Cistron going to the lead, which he held through the backstretch. Klimt, making his first start for Art Sherman after an eight-month layoff, positioned himself well in a stalking position.
Entering the stretch, B Squared, running for Doug O’Neill, had put his head in front of Klimt as West Coast had moved up to third running a very wide trip.
Then in the stretch, there was no doubt who was the best horse.
“He did have a wide trip and all that because you have a horse that can do it,” Baffert said. “But he needed to learn how to run like that [off the pace]. Mission accomplished.”
West Coast paid $2.80, $2.20 and $2.10. Klimt, who ran a very strong race, paid $4.60 and $3.40. He just nosed out B Squared for second, who returned $3.60 to show.
The remainder of the field was Colonist, Cistron, Kimbear and Term Of Art. Milton Freewater was a scratch.
“[West Coast is] a really talented horse, but Bob said he was going to need some time to develop,” said Gary West, who co-owns the colt with his wife Mary. “I told him to bring him along like he was your own horse. He was patient with the horse and the horse is starting to come around so I think everything Bob said was indeed correct.”
Saturday’s race was the last graded stakes race in Southern California for 3-year-olds on the dirt this season. You have to go back east if you have a talented colt or filly.
And West Coast is pointed for the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 26.
“I think the Travers would be a good spot for the horse,” Baffert said. “He’s growing into himself. Like Arrogate, he’s taking baby steps. Hopefully he’ll be the next good horse.”
West Coast is likely to leave Santa Anita and ship down the road.
“As long as he’s doing well, he’ll go to Del Mar [to train],” Baffert said. “He’s doing really well right now. If he gets on that plane it means he’s doing really, really well.”
Santa Anita-based Songbird won the $750,000 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park, beating Martini Glass by a length. It was her 13th win in 14 tries. Her only loss came by a nose to Beholder last year in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. At 1-9 odds, she was the shortest-priced favorite in the history of the 1 ¼-mile Grade 1 race.
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