November 30, 2023

West Coast assumes lead in division where losses matter, too

West Coast and jockey Mike Smith win the Travers (G1) (Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)

The three-year-old male championship is far from decided, but there’s an indisputable new leader of the division named West Coast, who captured Saturday’s $1.25 million Travers (G1) in wire-to-wire fashion by 3 1/4 lengths, and with every other aspirant to the crown well behind him.

As definitive as this victory was, it amazes me there are observers out there that want to knock West Coast’s championship qualifications based on what he did (or didn’t do) before the Travers while implying that losses, no matter how severe or unequivocal, can not or should not offset the relative importance of previous wins.

If owners Gary and Mary West and trainer Bob Baffert had their choice, they probably would have preferred West Coast develop much sooner. In the event, the horse didn’t debut until February 18 nor did he break his maiden until March 12.

Generally speaking, that’s pretty late in the game to eventually become a serious candidate for the Kentucky Derby (G1), and rushing a colt with that kind of potential to make either or both of the other two classics could easily backfire.

After a tough beat to the more seasoned Senior Investment in the Lexington (G3), West Coast has now won four straight, with his first two stakes wins in the $150,000 Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard and the Los Alamitos Derby (G3) preceding the Travers.

As weak as those fields may have been, they certainly prepared West Coast to run the way he did in the Travers. Three-year-olds like West Coast shouldn’t be viewed as equine interlopers in the championship conversation simply because they weren’t physically and/or mentally ready to compete in the Triple Crown or its associated prep races.

With that said, talk of Always Dreaming’s Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1) victories “outweighing” West Coast’s single top-level score (so far) in the Travers plus his other stakes wins is not only an unnecessary fawn to a graded stakes system that needs no legitimizing for reasons beyond why it was originally created, but is totally irrelevant based on current realities.

Decisive losses in the Preakness (G1) and Travers, along with a less-than-flattering one in the Jim Dandy (G2), by themselves have already outweighed any positive qualifications Always Dreaming had previously put forth for championship consideration. It’s up to the horse to change that, if he can.

Losses matter, too, especially in cases like this.


Concerns that Songbird perhaps isn’t quite what she once was were borne out Saturday when she narrowly missed in the Personal Ensign (G1) to a cleverly-ridden Forever Unbridled, a mare who is also not the horse she once was but in a good way for her.

One could argue the Personal Ensign was hardly a step back at all for Songbird, who registered a 100 BRIS Speed Rating, which was higher than the 96 she earned winning the Delaware H. (G1) and the 99 for her Ogden Phipps (G1) score.

From another perspective, the old Songbird would have been unlikely to lose the Personal Ensign given the comfortable, uncontested pace she set. She also wouldn’t have made such hard work of beating the unheralded Martini Glass at Delaware despite the weight concession and the condition of the track, which some described as laboring.

While owner Rick Porter said he would have the filly looked over by vets in Lexington before she returns to California, there’s nothing apparently wrong with Songbird physically.

The only filly ever to be named a champion at ages two, three, and four was Cicada way back in 1961-63. No one said, or should have even thought, maintaining that kind of health and form over three consecutive seasons would be easy for any filly, even Songbird.


There was no other pace in the field and he got away with a relaxed second quarter, but it was still nice to see the old Drefong back in the Forego (G1) after the recent debacle in the Bing Crosby (G1).

The Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) figures to be a sterner test, but memories of his game turn back of Masochistic in last year’s race linger and are likely repeatable.