“When you’re young it’s special because it’s the first one. When you’re old, it’s special because it might be the last one.”
That’s how Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith described his four Travers wins, spanning 23 years from Holy Bull to Coronado’s Quest to Arrogate to West Coast. The latest one, we didn’t say the last one, came Saturday when Smith changed plans in the post parade, gunned West Coast to the lead and made it stand up for 10 furlongs, widening to a 3 1/2-length score over longshot Gunnevera and Blue Grass winner Irap.
“They’re all special, man, they’re all special,” Smith said, as he peeled off Gary and Mary West’s silks after West Coast wired 11 rivals in the 148th Travers Stakes. “Holy Bull was awesome, he was and still is one of the best, if not the best horse I’ve ever ridden. Coronado’s Quest, I helped a little in that one, maybe, just because I didn’t know if he could get the mile-and-a-quarter. Then coming back and setting the fastest time ever in the Travers, then coming back and doing this again. It’s a dream come true. A dream come true.”
Trained by Bob Baffert, West Coast traveled from the west coast to dominate the Grade 1 Travers, knocking off Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, Preakness winner Cloud Computing, Belmont winner Tapwrit, Haskell winner Girvin, Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan and six other members of the 3-year-old division which finally has a leader.
“The who’s who of racing was here,” Gary West said. “Nobody can say he caught an easy field, they can say a lot of things but they can’t say that.”
This year’s Travers had it all, the Derby, Preakness and Belmont winners clashing in the big one at Saratoga. That clash failed to materialize as Always Dreaming stalked West Coast but faded to ninth, Cloud Computing slipped from third to eighth and Tapwrit ran evenly to wind up fourth.
West Coast finished 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.19 to register his fourth straight win. In those wins, West Coast sat off the pace each time, stalking in third to win an allowance at Santa Anita Park in May, rating in sixth before crushing eight rivals in the Easy Goer at Belmont Park in June and settling in sixth before dominating the Los Alamitos Derby in July.
Smith called an audible, changing those tactics as West Coast galloped to the start for his Grade 1 debut.
To read the rest of the Travers recap, download Sunday's digital edition of The Saratoga Special.