It seems like Bob Baffert is likely to run West Coast in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita this weekend. It will be his first start since his runner-up effort to Thunder Snow in the Dubai World Cup, and only his third start since last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Full disclosure: West Coast has been mostly very good to me from a wagering perspective. His win in the Travers last year made me money and won me a spot in the October 2017 Keeneland contest. That said, I have my doubts about his chances in the Breeders’ Cup this year should he end up there. And those doubts have nothing to do with his schedule.
After his loss in the Dubai World Cup, my hope was that we would see him return to the races sooner than he has. I was hoping to bet against him. Why? Well, I think there is a very reasonable chance that in spite of his obvious natural ability and class, he is a bit of a grinder and may struggle to catch and pass horses when facing top competition. Let’s review, and focus on his last three races.
I can’t argue with anyone who finds it silly to fault West Coast for failing to catch Collected and Gun Runner in the 2017 BC Classic. He ran a career best Beyer Speed Figure that day, and was making his first start in stakes company against older. But as fast as Collected and Gun Runner ran up front that day, as I was watching the race, I thought my win bet on West Coast was golden. And he just sort of failed to advance when the real running started. Again, I am well aware of whom he was trying to catch. And he didn’t run badly by any means. But I wasn’t as wowed by that effort as others were. And then when he showed up at Gulfstream in the Pegasus, he was the talk of the town. And yet again, he ran a big number in defeat while losing to an absolute monster at the top of his game in Gun Runner. But for a few strides that day, it looked like he might go on by Gun Runner, and he didn’t. So that brings us to the Dubai World Cup, where he failed to catch Thunder Snow, who had taken advantage of a well-documented rail bias. West Coast himself was almost caught for 2nd by the very ordinary Mubtaahij.
My point here is that I think there is a chance that when trying to catch and run down top class horses in front of him, West Coast might just be a tad light when it comes to the necessary talent and heart. Let me be clear. I am not in any way saying West Coast isn’t a top handicap horse, or that he can’t win the Breeders’ Cup Classic off of just one prep since March. I’m just saying that if he runs well enough this weekend to warrant a trip to Churchill Downs and you plan to bet him in the Classic, make sure you are comfortable with the idea that he’s going to have to do something he has struggled to do in the past when facing top competition. Of course, Gun Runner won’t be the one he has to catch. So…