West Coast led every step of the way and drew off to a confident 3 ¼-length victory gives Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his second straight win in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers presented by NYRA Bets before an on-track crowd of 47,725 on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
West Coast, owned by Gary and Mary West, sprung from the gate under Hall of Famer Mike Smith and quickly asserted control, a similar tactic that worked for the jockey-trainer team last year when they paired up with Arrogate, who took his 'Mid-Summer Derby' competition gate-to-wire to win by 13 ½ lengths in a record time of 1:59.36 for the 1 ¼-mile route.
This time, Smith and the Flatter colt took the field of 12 through a quarter-mile in 23.82 seconds and the half in 48.12 with Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming a length behind in second and multiple Grade 3 winner Irap, Grade 1 Preakness winner Cloud Computing, and Grade 1 Belmont hero Tapwrit in comfortable striking range.
Always Dreaming began to fold as Irap made a bid for the lead on the far turn getting within a half-length of West Coast but was brushed off under coaxing from Smith. They turned for home with a length advantage over Gunnevera, who had closed from near the back of the pack and rallied four wide into the stretch, drawing clear in the final strides to stop the clock in 2:01.19 over a fast main track.
Sent off as the fourth wagering choice at 6-1, West Coast returned $14.20 for a $2 win wager.
"They said, 'Listen, you ride him however you want, and he'll put a big effort,' and that means I could do whatever I wanted," said Smith, who rode the Baffert-trained Drefong to victory in the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego earlier on the card. "Just off of the way it looked, I said I was going to get aggressive leaving there and see where it puts me. If it's not in front, it puts me in the race, and I'm happy with that.
"I thought there wasn't much pace, but man, I caught a good jump, put him on the lead, and he just cruised from there," he continued. "He was a happy horse all the way around there. There was a time or two when they came to me, but he just put them away and every time they would he'd take a big old breath of air, so I felt confident he'd continue to run well."
West Coast entered the Travers on a three-race win streak, including a 3 ¾-length win in the listed Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Last time out, he earned his first graded stakes win in the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby on July 15.
Never worse than second in seven career starts, the win was his fifth since debuting as a 3-year-old in February. West Coast, out of the Honour and Glory mare Caressing and purchased as a yearling for $425,000, improved his lifetime bankroll to $993,800.
"I think the key to today was that horse was in his element in the paddock, and he looked great going to the gate," said Baffert, who became the first trainer to win consecutive Travers since Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey with Easy Goer and Rhythm in 1989 and 1990, respectively. Baffert also won the Travers with 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given.
"Usually, he gets all worked up and hot, and today he was perfect. He was a saint and that was the key to this horse today," he added. "He's maturing. When I saw him in the paddock, he looked unbelievable. I mean, I've never seen him look so ... great. You could tell he was like a man among boys. He looked the part. I mean, he was a specimen when he came onto that track. And the breeding, his mother, he's out of a great mare. So [he's] just coming around. It was just slow coming around. But there was nobody that was going to beat him today."
Margoth's Gunnevera, sent off at 24-1 with Edgard Zayas aboard, earned his first graded stakes placing since finishing third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby this spring. The Dialed In colt crossed the wire 2 ¼ lengths ahead of a tiring Irap and survived an inquiry into the stretch run and objection from Irap's jockey Mario Gutierrez.
"Gunnevera ran very good, very good. I am very proud of him," said runner-up trainer Antonio Sano. "It was a really good race. We expected first place when we came in, but we're happy with his race. [Zayas] did very good with the run, and we're happy with it. We're going to rest and take him to the Breeders' Cup [Classic]. l will take the horse back to Florida and not run him until then. He'll just train up to the Breeders' Cup."
Tapwrit checked in fourth, another 2 ½ lengths back, followed by Good Samaritan and Giuseppe the Great, the respective 1-2 finishers of the Grade 2 Jim Dandy. McCraken, Cloud Computing, Always Dreaming, Lookin At Lee, Girvin and Fayeq completed the order of finish.
This year's running marked only the third time in Travers history, and first time since 1982, to feature the three individual Triple Crown winners.