November 30, 2023

Travers Stakes 2017 Quotes and Post-Race Transcript

West Coast and jockey Mike Smith win the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on Saturday, August 26, 2017 (c) Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos

The 148th Travers (G1) Flash Quotes

Mike Smith, winning jockey aboard West Coast (No. 4): “So proud to be riding for this outfit and for these people and the chance to ride a horse that is really getting good right now. He is coming into this race sneaky good. He is still full of himself. Bob and his whole crew, Martin Garcia that get these horses ready I am just happy I am the guy that keeps the weight on their back.”

“Might of been something people didn’t think, but when Bob texted me before the race he said listen, he is yours, you ride him however you want with a big “Ever” So that kind of made me think I could get a little aggressive with him. And that is what I wanted to do with no pace in the race.”

“We warmed him up sharp. And I digged him out of there and he was responsive and after that he was just in such a beautiful rhythym and I said ‘oh guys, it’s going to be a hard out running from here’ and I thank the lord that he ran his race and he came back happy and sound and he didn’t turn a hair.

“We had a whole lot of lows early, and you just have to keep believing, keep riding for the right people and just make the right moves. It is going to come around. And just because you get beat doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, it just happens in every sport.”

Mary West, owner of West Point (No. 4): “This is really exciting. It is like winning the Kentucky Derby to me.”

“It is just exciting. It is the same [as winning a Breeders Cup]. We were so thrilled when New Year’s Day won the Breeders Cup, and this is second only to the [Kentucky] Derby. It doesn’t get any better.”

“They are just great trainers. They always get great horses and they somehow manage to win Grade 1 races.”

“My husband just said, ride him like he is yours. That is exactly what he said.

The 148th Travers Stakes (G1) Quotes

Mike Smith winning rider aboard West Coast (No. 3): “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. Just off of the way it looked, I said I was going to get aggressive leaving here, 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 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.

Antonio Sano, trainer of runner-up Gunnevera (No. 11): “I thought my horse should stay up, sure, and there should be no change in the result. As far as the horse [Irap, No. 10], he was way back, so it wouldn’t have made a difference. Gunnevera ran very good, very good. I am very proud of him. It was a really good race. We expected first place when we came in, but we’re happy with his race. He [Edgard Zayas] did a 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.”

Edgard J. Zayas, jockey aboard runner-up Gunnevera (No. 11):“He ran a huge race. The plan was to stay back. I wanted to just go following Girvin and McCracken and try to make a run with them, but they were gaining so much ground, so I swung on the outside and made a run with him and he ran a huge race really. I’m very proud of him.”

Mario Gutierrez, jockey aboard third-place finisher Irap (No. 10): “It was a good. There was a little bit of an incident in the stretch but beside that I had a pretty good trip. He was a little bit rank today but nothing unusual. He was pretty good. [Gunnevera] did push me down, but I guess the stewards didn’t think it was enough to cost me my place, but who knows?”

Todd Pletcher, trainer of fourth-place finisher Tapwrit (No. 4) and ninth-place finisher Always Dreaming (7): “I thought Tapwrit ran really well and kind of finished steadily and didn’t have that big burst at the end that we needed. I thought he put forth a good effort. Always Dreaming, he kind of came off the bridle at the half-mile pole. I can’t offer much excuse.”

Jose Ortiz, jockey aboard fourth-place finisher Tapwrit (No. 4): “I loved where I was early in the race. Todd [Pletcher] told me to try and ride him like I did in the Belmont, and that’s what I tried to do. Give him the same kind of trip. West Coast was gone at the quarter pole and Gunnevera was, too. They stayed steady and my horse stayed steady, too. He didn’t give me a little kick in the end. I think my trip was perfect. He broke well, sharp. He put me into a good position going into the first turn. I didn’t have to check him. I took back little bit and followed West Coast all the way around. I was pleased with my trip. He was just a little flat in the last part.”

Bill Mott, trainer of fifth-place finisher and beaten favorite Good Samaritan (No. 5): “We got off to an okay start but the horse dropped an awful way back. He made a huge run towards the end, but he was just a little too far back to get up there.”

Joel Rosario, jockey aboard fifth-place finisher and beaten favorite Good Samaritan (No. 5): “He broke OK and he was fighting a little bit to hold my position. He was back more than I wanted him to be. He put a nice run in the end but I think he had a little too much to do. They kind of got away from him.”

148th Travers Stakes (G1) Post-Race Press Conference Transcript

Saturday, August 26, 2017 – Saratoga Springs, New York

Mike Smith
Bob Baffert
Jimmy Barnes
Gary West
Mary West

THE MODERATOR [Jim Mulvihill of the NTRA]: Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the 148th Travers is West Coast. We’re pleased now to be joined by the winning connections. From left to right looking up there, we’ve got Mary and Gary West as well as winning jockey Mike Smith, assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes. This is Mike’s fourth Travers win, by the way. Congratulations, Mike. Congratulations to all of you.

Mike, usually, I like to start with you. If we could just get your impressions of the trip and when you decided to go to the lead.

MIKE SMITH: I decided before we went out to the paddock. I got a text from Bob earlier, about 20 minutes before we went out, and he told me just to ride however I wanted, and he really made the however pretty big. So that made me feel like, okay, I got the green light to maybe get a little aggressive.

I didn’t think there was much pace in there. I’m sure we all thought that. Jimmy thought that as well. And I thought, man, if I can catch a good jump, I’m going to take advantage of it. I told Gary in the paddock, don’t be surprised if I take advantage of a good jump, and he said, you just ride him like you want.

He was quick enough. He’s good enough, and he’d been training lights out for this. We’re just happy that he ran the way he ran.

THE MODERATOR: Excellent. Jimmy, if we could just get your impressions of the running of the race.

JIMMY BARNES: Geez, he was so good in the gate. Mike just caught a flyer there and was gone. I said, well, I guess Bob gave him the instructions, gave him the green light. We were watching the fractions flick off, almost 24, 48. Once I saw the 48, I said we’re good. No one was pressing us early, and it looked like he had plenty of horse the whole way.

THE MODERATOR: Gary and Mary, congratulations to you both. I would just like to get your thoughts on having potentially a Breeders’ Cup Classic starter now and this impressive performance today.

GARY WEST: Well, this is a race that we watched for probably 40 years we’ve been in horse racing and obviously it’s always one we’d love to have won, and we finally won one. To be honest with you, the race did not unfold the way that I thought it would. I fully expected us to be five or six lengths behind going down the backstretch.

And Mike came up to me about 15 minutes before the race, and he said, you know, there’s not a lot of speed in there. He said, if they give me an easy lead, I’m going to take it. I said, Mike, you take whatever they’ll give you and go on with it, and it worked out real well. He rode a hell of a race is all I can tell you.

THE MODERATOR: You said you’ve been watching this race for 40 years. What does it mean, the Travers to you?

GARY WEST: Truthfully, we won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and that was a very exciting thing to do. But next to the Kentucky Derby, this would have to be the most second coveted thing on our racing bucket list.

THE MODERATOR: The obvious question for Mike now is everyone is looking ahead to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. You’ve got mounts on two of the best horses in the country. I know you’re not going to tell us who you’re going to ride, but give us your thoughts on being in that position.

GARY WEST: I’ll tell you who he’s going to ride. It’s not going to be our horse, and I fully understand that. We don’t know what we’re going to do with our horse yet is the truth of the matter.

It’s a really tough bunch of older horses this year, probably the toughest ever, and we’ll just enjoy this moment and think about things down the road. But I fully would expect Mike to ride what I think is probably the best horse in the world. If he didn’t do that, I’d have his head examined.

THE MODERATOR: Classy perspective from you, Gary. Thanks for that.

Mike, do you want to comment on that?

MIKE SMITH: I thought he answered that very well. Thank you. It’s a long way. You got to just get everybody get home and see how things are, and it will all play itself out.

Q. Mike, this is consecutive Travers wins for you and Bob. What is your level of confidence when you ride in a race like this for Bob?

MIKE SMITH: When I get to ride for Bob and Jimmy and this barn, you feel like you just — you just feel like you’re Superman. You feel like you can go out there, and they give me the rein. They trust in me that I’m going to make the right decisions. I ain’t always going to make them, but on a whole, we do our best.

It really means a lot when you can go out there and just play things off the way a race sets up because it’s not always the way it is on paper or always the way — you’re going to think it’s the way it is. Horses stumble. Horses get away slow. Some break better than others. It’s nice that someone trusts you to go out there and do what you know to do, and that’s just adapt to the situations.

Q. Mike, did the win under Drefong earlier in the day inform your decision to go out of the gate?

No, but it took that big gorilla off our back. We were probably 1-5, 1-9 in the last five or six horses I’ve ridden. So winning that race, again, kind of boosts the confidence level up a little bit.

THE MODERATOR: Other questions for these folks? We’re going to give Bob Baffert a call and try to get him on the line. Where is Bob?

JIMMY BARNES: Well, I would assume he’s home on his — at the couch, the Grade 1 couch, watching. But I’m sure he’ll be checking in soon.

Q. Obviously, he’s a very well-bred horse and cost plenty as a yearling. When did Bob tell you that he might be something special?

GARY WEST: Bob thought he was a nice horse all along, but in his early training, he didn’t really stand out as — I didn’t think the first couple, three races that he ran — to be honest with you, I didn’t think we’d be sitting here today having won the Travers. I’m just being honest with you.

We knew he was nice, and then when Mike rode him in the Easy Goer, he really kind of woke up on that day, and then he won the Los Alamitos Derby. It was a 1 1/8 mile race, and he ran about a 1 1/4 mile in the race. So we knew he could run a long distance.

He’s been progressively getting better. I’ve watched the last couple of his breezes with Bob. He’s been progressively getting better. He’s been working with some really older, high caliber stakes horses and working head-to-head with them.

I thought he had a decent shot in here, but you’ve got to remember you’ve got the winner of the Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont, the first and second finishers of the Haskell, the first and second finishers of the Jim Dandy. You have to go back a lot of years in history to see a Travers with this many quality horses in it.

Q. Jimmy, can we get some more impressions from you of West Coast’s development this year and how he blossomed this summer?

JIMMY BARNES: Absolutely. Like Gary said, we took one race at a time, and finally, after the Easy Goer, it looked like he finally woke up. There were plans — Bob had spoke a time about running him in the Belmont, Easy Goer, wasn’t sure what to do. We chose the Easy Goer, take it one step at a time. Then we went back to California, ran in the Los Alamitos Derby, and specifically trained him up to this race.

So he’s developing, he’s grown, he’s put weight on. He’s just turned into a beautiful horse.

Q. Gary already addressed it a little bit, but just your impression representing the barn of what might be in store for him the rest of the year.
JIMMY BARNES: Well, that’s all up to Bob and Gary. I just try to take care of them the best I can. My wife Dana rides him, and I know he’s always in good hands when she’s on him. We’re just — to win this race two years in a row is very special. Got another canoe for Bob. He wants me to pick up last year’s canoe.

Q. Mike, you had so many great years in New York. Just talk about what the Travers means to you.
MIKE SMITH: This is unbelievable getting to come back here and do well. Again, I keep saying how blessed I am. I truly am. It’s just riding these kinds of horses for these great people is a dream come true. I’m going to try and stay as young as I can for another four, five years. I’m having a good time.

But it’s always extra special when you come back here. This was my first dream was being here. So it’s pretty cool when you come back and get to win the Travers.

THE MODERATOR: Other questions for these connections?

Q. What made the decision for you to go to the front end?
MIKE SMITH: Some fan out there told me, hey, there’s no speed in the race, Mike. Go to the lead.

No. Just looking at it on paper, talked to Gary Young. He’s a good handicapper. I always like to pick his brain a little bit. We were talking. And he said, man, if you caught a jump early, what do you think? I said, if they give me the green light, I can do what I want to do, that’s kind of my game plan.

I just thought it would play out that way. I thought Always Dreaming wasn’t running as well as he’d been running on the lead. They’d probably like to have someone to follow. Other than him, I didn’t see a whole lot of speed in there, and I know this colt is fast.

This horse is really getting good right now. I truly don’t think you’ve seen the best of him. Believe me, he pulled up, and he didn’t turn a hair. He’ll get a lot out of this, and I think you’ll see the horse step up even better.

Q. Mrs. West, we haven’t heard from you yet. Would you like to make any comments coming to Saratoga and winning the Midsummer Derby?
MARY WEST: It was exciting. That’s all I can say. I could hardly walk down the stairs.

THE MODERATOR: Any other questions from the folks here before we try to get Bob on the line?

Q. Travel plans?
THE MODERATOR: Oh, yeah, travel plans for West Coast.

JIMMY BARNES: The horses leave early Monday morning. So they’ll be here tomorrow. Leave early Monday morning.

Q. Are you going to be here, Jimmy?

JIMMY BARNES: I leave tomorrow.

Q. You’ll be around in the morning?
JIMMY BARNES: In the morning for a little bit but be gone early.

Q. How early?


Q. 6:00 a.m.?


THE MODERATOR: Hope everyone in the press box heard that. You got to be here early if you want to catch Jimmy Barnes tomorrow morning. Any other questions for these folks?

Congratulations, everybody. The winning connections of the Travers Stakes. West Coast is your winner.

If everyone wants to hang around, we’ll try to get Bob Baffert on the line now.

MIKE SMITH: When we get home, dinner at the steakhouse.

MARY WEST: Let’s do that.


THE MODERATOR: Hey, Bob. It’s Jim Mulvihill. We’re here at the press conference after the Travers. How are you doing?

BOB BAFFERT: Doing a lot better.

THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on an impressive win. We just want to get some impressions of the race from you and Mike’s ride.

BOB BAFFERT: We got control of the canoe one more year.

THE MODERATOR: Sorry, give us that again.

BOB BAFFERT: I’m just fortunate we got control of the canoe one more year.

THE MODERATOR: Control of the canoe for one more year, excellent.

Can you talk about — Mike mentioned that you sent him a text earlier today as far as instructions go or maybe not instructing him, telling him to do whatever he wanted. But just the conversations between you and Mike pre-race.

BOB BAFFERT: Well, all day I was talking to — I was texting back and forth with Gary West. We were talking — Gary West, all day we were talking about the track and the way it was playing. But I think after Drefong — Mike, after American Anthem, he didn’t really run his race, so I worried about it. (Indiscernible) would tell us, the track is to our liking. After Drefong ran, I said, you can do whatever you want.

I think the key to today was that horse was in his element in the paddock, and he looked great going to the gate. 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.

THE MODERATOR: Excellent. Bob, you already trained what a lot of people would say is the best dirt horse in the world right now. What do you do now as far as the plans for both of them for the rest of the year? Especially West Coast, but Gary West was talking about perhaps not wanting to face your other top horse.

BOB BAFFERT: I mean, I think Gary and I, we really didn’t have a plan for this horse after this. The whole plan was to get to Travers, but after that, we’ll just sit down. He knows, we’ll let it sit. Gary’s been so patient with me, and he’s been great.

I’m so happy for him because Gary and Mary, they deserve to win a race like this. They buy nothing but the classic type horses, horses that run. They don’t buy sprinters. They buy classic horses. It’s a tough way to go sometimes, but they have a really good one now. They had one last year. Just happy to see them. And they have stallions, they breed. They had a power broker that looked really impressive today at Monmouth Park.

You know what, they put a lot in the game. To me, I was rooting for them from home. I was rooting for the Wests because they deserve a race like this. I just wish I had been there to enjoy it with them.

THE MODERATOR: Absolutely. Just as far as maybe initial thoughts on rest of the year. Is it too early to get into that?

BOB BAFFERT: Oh, way too early. I’m just in — I’m just flying so high. I mean, I’m just so excited. I’m so proud of my horses today and the way Drefong ran. But that West Coast, what a perfectly named horse. Great name, great horse. So I’m just happy that we were able to pull it off.

It’s been a tough summer. We lost a lot of our momentum in July. So we’re just getting it back again. So it was good to see it carrying again.

THE MODERATOR: And you said you’ve been thinking about the Travers for a long time, but can you tell us more or pinpoint when you thought that this was a top 3-year-old and how he blossomed this summer, when this became the goal?

BOB BAFFERT: Well, I wanted to run him in the Belmont, but Gary looked at me, and he said, are you out of your mind? I don’t think he’s ready for that. And he was right, he wasn’t ready for it. So that’s why in the — that stake in Belmont. And he still wasn’t ready for it. He was pretty tough to saddle that day. He was getting hot and rambunctious. He still ran incredible, very well.

And then at Los Alamitos, he still tried to get a little bit. He was getting better. Now we’ve just done a lot of schooling. He’s maturing. When I saw him in the paddock, he looked unbelievable. I mean, I’ve never seen him look so — he looked great. You could tell he was like a man amongst 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 just coming around. It was just slow coming around. But there was nobody that was going to beat him today.

THE MODERATOR: Bob, I’m going to invite the reporters standing around here to ask a question if they have anything. In the meantime, as long as we’ve got you, can you give us more thoughts on Drefong?

BOB BAFFERT: Drefong, he just — you know, it sort of, in a way, if he hadn’t have done that in the Bing Crosby, I probably never would have brought him up to the Forego. Sometimes things work out for a reason. Luckily, he didn’t get hurt, Mike didn’t get hurt that day. It would have been really bad. He was working really well coming into this race. So he’s just a fast horse. He’s a beautiful, fast horse.

So he beat a really tough field. Mind Your Biscuits, he didn’t run his race today, so you got to draw a line through him. That happens. But the rest of the field was really good. It was a tough field. So it was nice to win that.

But any time you win at Saratoga on those big days, we love winning on those big days. It’s so important to us. That’s what we — we don’t run a lot of horses all year long, we don’t have a lot of horses, but try to make the ones that count. Those big days are really important to us.

THE MODERATOR: Well put. Any questions for Bob? Well, Bob, congratulations on your third Travers win, second in a row. Can’t wait to see more from West Coast this year. We’ll look forward to talking to you again soon. Congrats.

BOB BAFFERT: Thank you so much.

THE MODERATOR: That’s Bob Baffert, winning trainer of the Travers. Thanks, everybody, for coming down for this.