BENSALEM, Pa. -- Trainer Bob Baffert was counting his blessings following West Coast's emphatic 7 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby on Saturday. A number of champion horses have gone through Baffert's barn during his Hall of Fame career, but the last three years have been off the charts.
"First, we had American Pharoah, and I thought that was it, then the next year Arrogate, and now this horse," Baffert said.
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was voted Horse of the Year in 2015, and Arrogate, a late-developing 3-year-old like West Coast, was last year's 3-year-old male champion after winning the Travers and Breeders' Cup Classic.
Following impressive scores in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, West Coast has earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath with Baffert's more accomplished stars. West Coast motored through the finish line Saturday under Mike Smith like he was just getting warmed up going 1 1/8 miles.
"The further, the better for him," Baffert said. "He really wants 1 1/4 miles."
Baffert was hesitant to commit West Coast to the Breeders' Cup Classic, but that was likely more a matter of timing than anything else. He has six weeks to get his troops ready for the Breeders' Cup, and he also would not say that Arrogate was a definite starter for the Classic.
When asked if he was concerned about West Coast losing Smith to Arrogate for the Classic, Baffert said not so fast.
"I don't know that he will," Baffert said. "I mean, Arrogate is not sure to run either. We'll wait and see. The Breeders' Cup is a long ways off."
Arrogate has been beaten in his last two starts, both over the Del Mar surface, where the Breeders' Cup will be held.
West Coast's Pennsylvania Derby win gives him a leg up in the race for the 3-year-old male championship. He and Always Dreaming are the only 3-year-old males with two Grade 1 wins over the main track this year.
While West Coast is finishing the season strongly, Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming is being rested and is finished for the year.
"This was a really tough race," Baffert said of the Pennsylvania Derby. "The Travers was pretty impressive too. I know he's late to the party, but he's getting to that level. He's just so big. It took him time to get here."
Irap ran a strong race to be second, launching a four-wide move around horses into the stretch. He injured himself in the latter portion of the race and was pulled up after the finish by jockey Mario Gutierrez.
Irap's injured left leg was stabilized on the track with a splint, and he was vanned back to his stall on the Parx backstretch.
Trainer Doug O'Neill said Irap fractured the sesamoids in his left front leg and that he would be operated on at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., by Dean Richardson on Monday. Richardson is best known for treating Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro following his hind-leg injury in the 2006 Preakness.
O'Neill said Irap's prognosis is good and that he was vanned from Parx to the New Bolton Center on Sunday.
"He's doing great, he had a good night," O'Neill said Sunday morning. "We've been talking about what happened, and we just don't know exactly. He was doing great coming into the race. He tried so hard."
While Irap's racing career is finished, the hope is that he can stand at stud. He has won the Grade 2 Blue Grass, Grade 3 Ohio Derby, and Grade 3 Indiana Derby this year and finished third in the Travers prior to the Pennsylvania Derby.
Abel Tasman needs to relax
When Abel Tasman shot up the inside rail on the backstretch of the Grade 1 Cotillion on Saturday, going from ninth to second in less than a quarter-mile, many in the crowd wondered what jockey Mike Smith was doing. As it turns out, Smith didn't want to make that move -- Abel Tasman did.
After engaging Lockdown for the lead from the inside nearing the far turn, Abel Tasman couldn't stay with It Tiz Well in the stretch and finished second, beaten two lengths. It was another three-quarters of a length back to Lockdown in third.
"She pretty much ran off with me," Smith said. "She broke slow and dropped so far back, and then she just wants to go. I tried to put her behind another horse, but she just put her head up in the air. I didn't ask her to rush up there."
The race was similar to the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga, where Abel Tasman made a bold midrace move to the lead on the backstretch. She was able to outfight Elate to win that race by a head.
Trainer Bob Baffert said he will make some changes to try to get her to relax, possibly removing her blinkers.
"She's starting to do the same thing over and over," Baffert said. "She drops back and then gets rank. She got away with it last time but not today."
It Tiz Well has now won the Cotillion, Grade 3 Delaware Oaks, and Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn Park this year for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and owner Tom Stull.
Jockey Drayden Van Dyke said It Tiz Well relaxed much better for him in the Cotillion than she did in per prior start, the Grade 1 Alabama, where she went to the lead.
"She ran today the same way she ran at Delaware," Van Dyke said. "She relaxed much better for me today."
Stull said he would talk with Hollendorfer about where It Tiz Well will run next, but he was not sure she would move on to the Breeders' Cup Distaff. He pointed out that she is "a young 3-year-old, an April 30 foal" and that he wanted "to do what's right for her."