West Coast is heading back to the East Coast.
That's the plan, anyway, after he passed a test of sorts July 15 in the $200,000 Los Alamitos Derby (G3).
It wasn't long after the Flatter colt's 2 3/4-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile test that the word "Travers" came out of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's mouth.
"I was looking for a Travers horse," Baffert said with a smile in the Los Alamitos Race Course winner's circle.
But he didn't look bound for the Aug. 26 grade 1 event at Saratoga Race Course midway through the final turn in the Los Alamitos Derby. Under jockey Drayden Van Dyke for the first time, Gary and Mary West's West Coast was encouraged by the young jockey in the final bend and wasn't making up much ground on the frontrunners.
West Coast raced in fifth in the backstretch, as Cistron set fractions of :23.73, :47.89, and 1:11.64 through six furlongs, but once the field reached the stretch, the colt found another gear in the clear on the outside. B Squared put a head in front of Klimt to take the lead with a furlong to run, but neither could hold off West Coast, who surged by on the outside to hit the wire in 1:48.65.
"I have so much confidence in Baffert's horses, just because of the superior trainer that he is, but I thought he might hit three more gears in the lane and that is what he did," Van Dyke said. "It was a hell of a feeling to feel a horse do that."
After dishing out some good-natured ribbing to his jockey—"That was perfect, Drayden. You took your time, read a book along the way"—Baffert explained the closing trip was part of the plan.
"He was instructed to do that—wait, wait, wait—because if he goes early he doesn't finish, like he did two races back," Baffert said of a three-quarter-length allowance win at Santa Anita Park May 20, which preceded his breakthrough, 3 3/4-length score in the Easy Goer Stakes June 10 at Belmont Park. "It was sort of a gamble to sit back there, but it paid off, because he wants to be patient. Turning for home I said, 'I think we're OK.'
"He's a good horse, it's a long stretch, and all of the sudden he just took off. ... He needs to learn how to run like that, so it's mission accomplished."
After what he saw in the Los Alamitos Derby, Baffert expressed confidence West Coast can handle the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Travers.
"That's what we're looking for. (For) a mile and a quarter, he needs a race like that. ... I think the Travers will be a good spot for this horse," Baffert said. "He's growing into himself. We're developing him like we did with Arrogate—taking baby steps with him—and hopefully he'll be the next good horse."
Kaleem Shah's Klimt, a former Baffert trainee who won the 2016 Del Mar Futurity (G1), chased Cistron early, and although he was headed by B Squared with a furlong to run, the Quality Road colt battled back on the inside to get his nose in front at the wire for second in his first start for trainer Art Sherman.
"I was so happy with that race," Sherman said. "Let's just hope he comes back in one piece. He ran a big race. Going a mile and an eighth off a layoff like that—that's a hell of an effort."
Bred in Kentucky by CFP Thoroughbreds, out of the Honour and Glory mare Caressing, West Coast pushed his earnings to $323,800 with his first graded victory Saturday. A $425,000 purchase at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2015, West Coast now has a 4-2-0 record from six starts.