West Coast Sparkles in Pennsylvania Derby, It Tiz Well Takes Cotillion

West Coast turned in a dazzling victory in the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 23 at Parx Racing. (Eclipse Sportswire, America’s Best Racing))

(By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing). BENSALEM, Pa. – Turn the page.

That is what all great jockeys must do when something goes amiss, and that is exactly what Hall of Famer Mike Smith did at Parx Racing on Saturday.

After making what he admitted was a costly middle move with Abel Tasman in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes, Smith immediately rebounded with a flawless ride aboard runaway winner West Coast in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.

When asked about the ability to carry on after his admitted miscalculation contributed to It Tiz Well’s two-length upset of Abel Tasman, Smith replied, “I have no choice, especially when the next race is worth $1 million.”

Smith, 52, made certain there would be no misadventures with West Coast by rousing him early out of post-position four so that he sat just outside early leader Outplay. It was clear they could draw away from Outplay any time they pleased, and West Coast tore around the final turn to open a four-length advantage in early stretch. He was the easiest of winners, drawing clear by 7 ¼ lengths against runner-up Irap, in a time of 1:49.91 for 1 1/8 miles.

Irap , after making a powerful move to be second for jockey Mario Gutierrez, broke down after the finish line and had to be vanned off with what was initially thought to be a sesamoid injury to his left front leg.

“This is a very serious injury and may be a life-threatening injury,” said Dr. Celeste Kunz, an on-call veterinarian. Irap, trained by Doug O’Neill, was taken by ambulance back to his stall for further evaluation.

For Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, he is having a late-blossoming colt move to the head of the class for the second consecutive season. Arrogate roared to the forefront late last summer when he smashed the track record in the Travers, and now West Coast boasts a five-racing winning streak culminating in a pair of dominant Grade 1 scores. The son of Flatter controlled the Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Betsfrom start to finish in a 3 ¼-length decision on Aug. 26. The Pennsylvania Derby, given Grade 1 status for the first time, was even more convincing.

West Coast joined Xpressbet Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands winner Always Dreaming as the only 3-year-old males with two Grade 1 victories on dirt. But Always Dreaming lost much of his shine with an eighth-place finish in the Preakness Stakes, a third-place showing in the Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, and a dull ninth-place effort in the Travers.

Smith has little doubt that West Coast belongs at the top of the heap. “He’s just better than they are,” he said. “As a matter of fact, he was getting bored.”

Smith’s task in the Cotillion was complicated by two factors. Abel Tasman, who had rattled off Grade 1 victories in the Longines Kentucky OaksAcorn Stakes, and Coaching Club American Oaks, broke from far outside in post nine in a field of 10. And then she was somewhat sluggish at the start, something that has been one of the few chinks in her armor.

“It takes her like an eighth of a mile to get rolling,” said Baffert, “and then she gets in the bit and she gets tough [to handle].”

Baffert said of the upset loss, “It was that move. She must have gone really fast.”

Abel Tasman made a relentless charge inside, passing horses as if they were standing still. But when it came time to fend off It Tiz Well, there was not much fuel left in the tank.

Smith pointed the finger of blame at himself.

“I didn’t ride her very well. It wasn’t my finest moment,” he said. “If I had to do it over again, I should have stayed outside.”

He could not do it again. He could do it better the next race.